Ch. II Heritage and Environment

By James S. Stewart 1935
A Man in Christ

THE Christian religion was cradled in Judaism. Behind it lay the amazing history of the Hebrew nation. Into the soul of it went all the idealism, the faith, the divine revelation, the providential guidance which had made that history great. Through its veins flowed the blood of generations of Hebrew saints. The Hebrew attitude to life was its inheritance, the Hebrew genius for God its birthright. Jesus came, not to destroy, but to fulfil. Yet Christianity from the first was destined by God for a world-religion. Born and cradled in Judaism, it was to leave its ancestral home and face the desperate need of the whole earth. The seed sown in Palestinian soil was to become a tree whose leaves would be for the healing of the nations. And so when God, seeking a man to herald and proclaim the Gospel of His Son, laid violent hands on Saul of Tarsus, breaking in on his life and claiming him utterly and flooding his whole being with an irresistible passion for Christ^there was a singular appropriateness about the choiceV-JEor Paul belonged to both worlds. Before ever he became a Christian, two strains had mingled in him, two influences had been playing upon him. He was at once a Jew, and a citizen of the wider world. Nurtured in the faith and ways of Judaism, he nevertheless had experience of the contact and influence of a Greek environment. Our business in the present study will be to see the man and his religion in relation to this


Jewish and Hellenistic background in which his life was set, and to inquire how far it helped to mould and determine his presentation of the Gospel of Christ.

It is clear, to begin with, that all through his life — after his conversion to Christianity, no less than before it — the fact that he had been born a Jew filled Paul with an intense sense of gratitude to God. Despised among the nations the Jews might be ; but it never occurred to the apostle, not even when confronting the most cultured and critical Greek audiences, to make any secret of his origin. Jewish lineage, he felt, was not a thing to be apologetic about : on the contrary, it was a unique cause for thanksgiving. He would not indeed boast about it, for when a man has really seen Christ and caught His Spirit (as Paul once said himself) ” boasting is excluded,” x and all that attitude of pride is finished : one thing only is left for him to glory in, the cross by which he has been saved. 2 Still he does tell the Corinthians that if his apostolic authority and his right to speak were questioned, and if it were permissible in answer to forget the Christian spirit just for a moment and ” have his little boast as well as others ” 3 (so Dr. Moffatt translates it, rightly conserving the playful turn of the apostle’s thought), he could soon produce satisfactory credentials. ” Are they Hebrews ? so am I. Are they Israelites ? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham ? so am I.” 4 Similarly, he writes to the Philippians that if he chose to rely on outward privilege (meaning, of course, that

1 Rom. 3:27 .
2 Gal. 6″.
3 II Cor. 11:16 .
4 II Cor. 11:22 .


he does not so choose — but if he did) he could outvie even the Judaizing teachers themselves : “I was circumcised on the eighth day after birth ; I belonged to the race of Israel, to the tribe of Benjamin ; I was the Hebrew son of Hebrew parents, a Pharisee as regards the Law, in point of ardour a persecutor of the Church, immaculate by the standard of legal righteousness.” * According to St. Luke’s narrative in the Book of Acts, the apostle’s defence before Agrippa opened with the plea, ” My manner of life from my youth . . . know all the Jews . . . that in the strictest sect of our religion, I lived a Pharisee.” 2 The same note is heard again in the letter to the Galatians : “I out-stripped many of my own age in my zeal for the traditions of my fathers.” 3 Damascus brought many great discoveries in its train, and many new convictions came to Paul as direct corollaries of the revolutionizing experience through which he then passed : one of the greatest was the discovery of a human brotherhood in which the old lines of Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, bond and free, had been obliterated, and the old barriers had for ever vanished. Yet right to the end there remained clearly stamped upon his mind the thought of God’s surpassing goodness to the chosen people ; and it baffled and bewildered and hurt him more than he could tell that Israel, ” entrusted with the oracles of God,” 4 starting with an initial advantage so huge and so decisive, should have stood back watching others, who had no such privilege, pressing forward into a fullness of life and a glory of service that she herself refused to enter. Why should this have happened ? he wonders. Why this startling disloyalty

1 Phil. 3:6 *- (Moffatt).
2 Acts 26**-
3 Gal. 1″.
4 Rom. 3*.


to the God whose blessing of Israel had been so unstinted, so royally extravagant ? Facing the tragic problem, Paul heaps up the splendours his nation had inherited, the unique privileges which ought surely to have made Judaism the first to recognize and hail its Lord : ” they are Israelites, theirs is the Sonship, the Glory, the covenants, the Divine legislation, the Worship, and the promises ; the patriarchs are theirs, and theirs too (so far as natural descent goes) is the Christ.” 1 All this is the Jew’s prerogative, his mandate straight from God, in which Paul claims a share. ” I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham.” 2 But how much his birth and lineage meant to him may be gathered best of all from the way in which, even in his people’s stubbornness and blindness and downright apostasy, he clings to them with the yearning and fervour of his soul, refusing, like God with Ephraim, to let them go. ” I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” 3 Hearing these words, white-hot with love and wild with all regret, words surely as moving as anything in the literature of the world, we seem to watch the centuries falling away, and Paul the born Jew takes his stand with that other great priestly and vicarious soul, the lonely Jew who stood before God on Sinai in the morning of Israel’s days, and cried ” Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin — ; and if not, blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” 4 The great, human, god-like cry, wrung from Paul’s heart in Romans, is the real index of what his ancestral faith stood for in his experience. To be “a Hebrew of the Hebrews ” — that was a priceless and enduring

1 Rom. g* { – (Moffatt).
2 Rom. 11».
3 Rom. 9 8 .
4 Exod. 32″.


privilege. Even to Paul the Christian, it was a gift of God.

Now the question has sometimes been raised whether that branch of the Jewish faith to which Paul belonged, namely Pharisaism, has been correctly and justly delineated in the pages of the New Testament. The general picture conjured up by the name Pharisee is clear enough. Formalism of worship, pride of goodness and of grace, an orthodoxy almost virulent in its self-righteousness, and that identification of religion with respectability which, in every age down to the present has been a successful method of eluding the cross — these are the main features of the picture. But is this true to fact ? In its origins, at any rate, the Pharisaic party stood for a perfectly right and healthy reaction against a cosmopolitan drift which was endangering the very foundations of morality. Fired with a passion for religious independence, refusing to be swamped by the denationalizing forces of the time, jealously guarding his historic heritage of faith and morals from the destroying influence of a subtle and pervasive syncretism, the Pharisee rendered a real service, not only to his own land and creed, but to the cause of vital religion everywhere. Righteousness was his keynote, and the honour of the one true God his constant theme. So full of contaminating influences was the age in which he lived, so deadly the pressure of the surrounding paganism, that laxity of any kind could not be tolerated: rigid obedience to law and tradition was the one hope of salvation. These were the circumstances which called Pharisaism into existence, and gave it a name and a place in the world and a work to do for God: nor did it fail, even in New Testament times, to breed men of noble character and genuine spiritual insight.


But the tendency on the whole had been to move away from those first enthusiasms, away from such great centralities as being loyal to heaven and keeping oneself unspotted from the world, towards the unreality and mere pedantry of a dogmatic legalism, and the contemptuous exclusiveness which thinks it has a monopoly of all the virtues and claims vested rights in God. Substantially the familiar picture of Pharisaic religion in the New Testament is true to fact : and it is not only one of the greatest anomalies of history, but also one of the most solemnly significant of facts for every age to ponder, that the men who were, outwardly at least, the most religious people in the land, were ultimately the head and front of the opposition which compassed the death of the Son of God.

To this party, then, Paul belonged. He had indeed the very considerable advantage of studying religion and theology in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, 1 who represented Pharisaism at its best. Gamaliel was a grandson of the great Hillel, and at this time the recognized leader of the school which bore that honoured name. Between the school of Hillel, where a more advanced and liberal Judaism was taught, and the school of Shammai, where the strictest and most unyielding literalism held the field, constant rivalry prevailed: and though Rabbinic conferences were held from time to time in the effort to smooth down the differences and promote unity, the points at issue remained unadjusted. The Talmud records more than three hundred questions of law and observance on which the two schools gave conflicting rulings. 2 Proselytes from other faiths were welcomed by those who shared Hillel’s views, but the followers of Shammai barred them altogether. The

1 Acts 22:3 .
2 G. F. Moore, Judaism, i. 81.


Mosaic Law was interpreted by the broader school in a more spiritual and more sympathetic way. And the future apostle, sitting at Gamaliel’s feet, was undoubtedly in touch with what was best in the religious education of his people. The impression of those student years at Jerusalem would not readily pass away. Yet even Paul, zealous and strong-minded as he was and fearlessly sincere in following the light he had, was necessarily exposed, in his religious life, to the weaknesses and defects that inhered in the very constitution of Pharisaism. We need not imagine for a moment that religion for him ever degenerated into the mixture of self-deception and wilful, rank hypocrisy which thrust itself forward so challengingly into the path of Christ, and brought down upon the very name of Pharisee such crushing words of warning and rebuke and doom. But the essential  characteristics of Pharisaism — its dogmatic assurance that the traditions of the fathers contained the whole truth and that therefore no new revelation was to be looked for, its externalizing of a man’s duty to God, its glorying in good works, its legal notions of the relation subsisting between the human and the divine, its inner hardness — these things Paul could no more escape than could any other convinced and thoroughgoing Pharisee. Slowly but surely their baleful influence asserted itself, with a grip that began to choke the very life of his soul: and in the end it took the strong hands of the risen Christ to wrench him clear.

But there was one part of Paul’s Jewish heritage which, from his youthful student days right on past his conversion to the very end of his life, remained an inexhaustible treasure-store of divine wisdom and


blessing for mind and heart. This was the Old Testament. All faithful Jews were steeped in the language and thought of the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The supreme instance of this is, of course, our Lord Himself : no one can read the Gospels without realizing how long and how deeply Jesus, during the silent years in Nazareth, had pored over those sacred writings in which He saw His own mission foreshadowed. Paul was nurtured in the same atmosphere, and drank deep from the same life-giving spring. For him, as for all true Jews, the Old Testament carried an overwhelming authority. Every part of it, every word of it, was the authentic voice of God. Hence any matter under debate could be settled by a quotation from its pages : for obviously when God had given His ruling, when God’s own literal words had been heard, nothing more remained to be said. This completely authoritative estimate of the Old Testament was accepted by Paul without question, as can be seen from certain passages in his epistles where a single yeypairrai, “it is written,” is deemed sufficient to clinch an argument and foreclose all discussion.

We cannot here attempt to analyse all the religious conceptions which gained firm possession of Paul’s mind and heart as he read and studied the great Scriptures of his nation in the Jerusalem school and in his own private devotions. Suffice it to say that the two commanding truths which laid their spell upon him then, and were subsequently carried over by him into his Christian apostolate, were the dogma of monotheism and the concept of righteousness. Long before the young Pharisee sat at Gamaliel’s feet, Judaism had given monotheism to the world ; but it was to be Paul’s great service to show how this foundation-stone of


Jewish religion could bear the weight of the full assertion of Jesus’ Lordship and divinity, and how the most unqualified monotheism and the loftiest Christology could go hand in hand. And the further idea of righteousness had so coloured all Paul’s thinking, the age-long question as to how a sinful man could be found righteous before God — or ” justified ” — had so riveted itself upon his mind, that when in the providence of God the time came for him, a converted man, to interpret and set forth for others the inner meaning of the Gospel by which he had been converted, one at least of the lines which that interpretation was to take was virtually laid down for him in advance. It is a risky business, admittedly, to try to make old categories do duty for a totally new experience, specially when that experience itself directly negates much of the older position; and it may be questioned whether the concepts of righteousness, justification, and so forth, which Paul inherited from Judaism, were always adequate for the purpose to which he put them. But just as it was the fact of redemption he was dealing with, so the very concepts used have, as it were, been redeemed and born again. The old categories begin to live and breathe with a vitality that Rabbinism had never put into them. Damascus meant a rediscovered Old Testament. Meanings previously unguessed now leapt out at Paul from every page. Hidden truths flashed into view. The student under Gamaliel, the trained Pharisee, the persecutor of all innovators and heretics, had always thought himself learned and adept in the oracles of God ; but Christ laid hold of him, and suddenly what he had pondered and pored over so diligently for years was a new book. Righteousness, justification, all the familiar conceptions, were still there, but shining now


with a light how different, how transfiguring, how wonderful ! Now at last the man had eyes to see and ears to hear, and on every page was finding living words of God which even noble spirits like Hillel and Gamaliel, master-interpreters of the Scriptures as they were, had somehow utterly missed. The saints of the Old Testament had seen God, and to Paul in his great hour outside Damascus the same vision had now come: hence there sprang up between them a vital kinship. They and he were standing together at the heart of things. Deep answered to deep, insight called to insight; and all the majesty, the spirituality, and the urgency of the Old Testament revelation have passed right over into Paul’s proclamation of the good news of Christ.

Something must here be said of the influence upon Paul of the allegorical methods which the Rabbis had by this time developed into a science. Just as Stoic philosophers had learnt to adapt the Iliad and the Odyssey to their own purposes by the expedient of imposing an ethical or metaphysical interpretation upon the old Homeric myths and legends of the doings of the gods, so the Jewish Rabbis were able, sometimes with a view to edification and sometimes, it must be confessed, with less creditable motives, to make the simplest, most straightforward Old Testament passages yield up many hidden doctrines and unexpected parables. The plain, obvious meaning of the inspired words was rejected, and intricate mystic meanings were superimposed. It was an arbitrary proceeding, but to Jewish minds it was not only legitimate but divinely ordained. God Himself, so ran the argument, had buried those secrets in Holy Scripture, and they were beyond the reach of any but the spiritually enlightened ; but God meant His


accredited interpreters, the Rabbis, to dig for them and find them, and share them with the less instructed. Training in this method of allegorical exegesis entered largely into Paul’s curriculum, and evidences of it are not wanting in his epistles. The great passage in Galatians where the story of Sarah and Hagar is interpreted in terms of the conflict between legalism and Christian liberty illustrates the method at its best. 1 ” Which things are an allegory,” 2 writes Paul after referring to the Genesis narrative, and then proceeds to draw his memorable picture of the Jerusalem above ” which is the mother of us all.” Another occasion where he uses the Rabbinic method with the sure hand of a master is in his christianizing of the desert wanderings of Israel. 3 ” These things were our examples,” he declares, using the word tvitol, ” types,” in the true scholastic way ; and again, ” These things happened unto them for ensamples ” — tvttik&s — ” and are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 4 Here and there, it is true, the Rabbinic technique betrays Paul into statements and sentiments which are open to serious challenge. The juggling with the singular and plural ” seed ” and ” seeds ” in Galatians 3 16 is a case in point. And some may find it hard to forgive Paul for the way in which, having quoted the old law of Deuteronomy, ” Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn,” he simply sweeps aside the original intention of the command with a blunt “Doth God care for oxen ?” and proceeds to deduce a divine instruction as to the maintenance of the Christian ministry. 6 This is the allegorizing tendency pushed to extremes. One cannot

1 Gal. 4:S1 «.
2 dW-nyopotfiwa, Gal. 4″.
3 I Cor. 10:111 .
4 I Cor. 10*. “.
5 Deut. 25*.
6 I Cor. g’ 1 –


help contrasting Paul and Jesus here. Jesus too spoke about beasts of the field and birds of the air: like Paul, He drew lessons from them about God’s care and love for men. But when Jesus raised the question “Doth God care for sparrows ? ” it was not, like Paul, to suggest a self-evident negative, but to argue from a clear positive along the line of ” how much more” — “How much more must He care for men !” The Deuteronomy passage itself could have been used in this way by Paul to lead up to the point which he was anxious to make, and the argument a minori ad mains was one which elsewhere he has handled with effect: but here the allegorical method prevailed, with a result which we cannot but deplore. It ought, however, to be added that such blunders were due less to the man himself than to the recognized and universally accepted ways of the Rabbinic schools. In any case, he uses allegory sparingly, and generally only in relation to matters of secondary importance : in the central things, he is independent of such aids and speaks out of the fullness of his own heart.

Certain other characteristics of the apostle’s handling of the Old Testament may be noted here. He would occasionally pile up quotations, culled almost at random from different parts of Scripture, to reinforce his line of appeal. This was in true Rabbinic style : a striking example of it will be found in the great discussion on Israel’s apostasy in chapters 9 to 11 of the epistle to the Romans. In quoting from the Old Testament, Paul did not feel himself rigidly bound by the original context from which the various passages came. Thus in Deuteronomy 30 12 ff – the great passage beginning “It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us ? ” asserted


the claims and the practicability of the law : but when it reappears in Romans 1o 6ff \ what it asserts is the exact reverse — that faith, not law, is man’s salvation. 1 The great bulk of Paul’s Old Testament quotations are taken from the Septuagint, and in quoting from it he seems to have relied generally upon memory: inaccuracies of detail are frequent. Occasionally the inaccuracies have the appearance of being deliberately introduced to help the argument. 2 One of the Psalmists had pictured Jehovah ” leading captivity captive ” and ” receiving gifts ” among men, accepting the tribute due to a conqueror. 3 Paul, in a well-known passage, seeking to remind his readers of the wonderful spiritual gifts which the exalted Christ had poured out upon His Church, uses the Psalmist’s picture and introduces it as a direct quotation with the words ” Wherefore He saith ” (Xeyei, i.e. “it is said in Scripture,” or ” God says “) : yet the vital word ” received ” becomes in Paul ” gave.” 4 It may be that memory here played him false; or it may be, as E. F. Scott suggests, that it is some old Jewish paraphrase of the Psalm, rather than the Psalm itself, which he is drawing upon. 5 Such paraphrases did sometimes come, through long use and the hallowing associations of the synagogue, to bear

1 Cf. on this point Weiss, Urchristentum, 332. Denney, EGT t
ii. 670: ” The Apostle is not thinking in the least what the writer of Deuteronomy meant ; he is putting his own thoughts into a free reproduction of these ancient inspired words.”
2 This is asserted of both Paul and Philo by Kennedy, Philo’s Contribution to Religion, 44.
3 Psalm 68*. The A.V. ” received gifts for men ” is ” an impossible rendering ” (Kirkpatrick, The Psalms, 388). ” Among men ” (R.V.) gives the true sense, and Moffatt translates ” with tribute taken from men.” This is an instance where the A.V. has probably been influenced by a reminiscence of the Pauline quotation.
4 Eph. 4:8 .
5 E. F. Scott, Ephesians, 207 (MNTC).


almost as much authority as Scripture itself. But perhaps the best thing to say about all these inaccuracies, whether deliberate or not, in Paul’s use of the Old Testament is that the apostle was conscious, as he himself more than once declares, 1 of sharing in the same Spirit which had inspired the sacred writers, and consequently of being free to apply their message as the needs of his own day demanded. Nothing, at any rate, can obscure the fact that the love of God’s Holy Word which possessed Paul from first to last was at once an indispensable praeparatio evangelica for the advent of Christ to his soul, and a magnificent equipment for the work which Christ intended him to do.

When we pass from the Old Testament to the other element which entered into the Palestinian Judaism of Paul’s day, namely, apocalyptic literature, the extent of the apostle’s indebtedness is harder to assess. The tendency on the whole has been to exaggerate his debt. Indeed, the influence of apocalyptic in general on the life and thought of Judaism has probably been much overrated — notably by Schweitzer and his school. For the Rabbis themselves this whole body of literature had but little attraction. 2 Its appeal was mainly, not to cultured Jerusalem at all, but to the simpler folk of Galilee and the north. 3 Attempts have been made in recent years to piece together the jumbled, heterogeneous pictures of the apocalyptic writers into something like a coherent theology, but quite without success. At the same time, these pictures do undoubtedly disclose certain deep religious hopes and aspirations which were in the air during the period from a century and a half

1 I Cor. 2:1S , 7:40 .
2 G. F. Moore, Judaism, ii. 281.
3 Inge, Christian Ethics and Modern Problems, 35 f. Gore, Belief in Christ, 21 ff.


before the birth of Christ to a century after. And as Professor Welch has very cogently pointed out, we dare not ignore a literature which sprang, as apocalyptic did, out of the travail of soul of generations of men to whom life had grown dark and baffling ; a literature moreover which, in days when scribism had largely regularized religion and reduced the world to a closed system, maintained a dogged belief in the direct action of God. 1 When the Maccabaean dynasty, in which such splendid hopes had centred, passed away, and the heel of the oppressor was once more on Israel’s throat, the whole nation was in danger of settling down into irremediable despair. It was to counter this growing pessimism that the apocalyptists sought to lift men’s eyes to a speedily coming day when God would break in gloriously, not only to subdue the heathen world-powers, but to destroy the old order of things entirely and bring in new heavens and a new earth. Hence the root-conception of all this class of literature is the doctrine of the two ages: everything turns on the contrast between this present evil age (6 alwv otiros, mn nhhs) and the ideal coming age (6 alwv 6 fj.4X wv, N^rr D*rii>). 2 Imaginative pictures, often characterized by crude material features and strong nationalist colours, were given of the blessedness which the transition to the new world-order would bring. 3 On the day of the consummation, God’s Messiah, appointed but hidden from the foundation of the world, would be revealed. 4 Not only the heathen, but the whole realm of hostile powers and angels and evil spirits, would be beneath His feet. 6

1 A. C. Welch, Visions of the End, 18, 23. Cf. Muirhead, in HDA C, i. 73 : ” the greater the stress the truer the inspiration of the apocalyptist.”
2 IV Ezra 7 80 .
3 Enoch 103 f., Baruch 49 ff.
4 Enoch 48:6 , 62 s .
5 Enoch 16:3 , 65-69.


Such were the ideas which, sometimes dimly and vaguely, sometimes stormily and impetuously, had taken possession of certain Jewish circles. And it was only natural that a man like Paul, whose own life owed everything to a sudden, supernatural intervention, should have had a kindred feeling for a form of faith in which the fact of direct action from the side of God was so steadily and so strongly stressed. But while his eschatological outlook does show clear marks of this influence, it is the general spirit, rather than any of the details, of the apocalyptic picture to which he stands indebted. The basal conception of the two contrasted world-orders meets us in the epistles ; x here too we read of the war with the spirits and malignant forces and hostile angels ; 2 here again we encounter the attitude of soul which keeps peering through the dark for the promised dawn of God, and cries out of its tribulation ” Marana tha ” — ” Lord, come ! ” 3 But Paul is bound to no apocalyptic scheme, and he treats the materials at his disposal with sovereign freedom. He will have nothing, for example, as Titius has well pointed out, of the nationalist spirit that haunts Jewish apocalyptic like an undertone. 4 Politics are apt to get mixed up even with the day of the Lord : but in Paul, all that is finished, and nothing remains but

1 I Cor. 10″. Gal. 1*. Rom. 12*.
2 Rom. 8:28 , Eph. 6″.
3 I Cor. 16″. The alternative reading — ” Maran atha,” ” our Lord comes ” — is favoured by Weiss, in Meyer’s Kommentar zum NT, 387. Both readings are given by Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, v. 388, and by Lietzmann, I. and II. Korinther, in HBNT. The imperative is favoured by Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament, I. 304 ; Dodd, Romans, 167, etc. It was probably a prayer of the primitive community > which became a liturgical formula for the whole Church. Cf. Rev. 22:20 , Didache 10*. The underlying idea reappears in Phil. 4*. I Thess. 1:10 , Rom. i3 nf -, etc.
4 Der Paulinismus unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Seligkeit, 47-49.


what is spiritual through and through. Moreover, it needs to be said emphatically that Paul’s great thought of the eternal Christ owes nothing whatever to the picture of the ” Heavenly Man ” in the Book of Enoch and elsewhere : it is sheer blindness and banality to suggest, as has not infrequently been done, that a mechanical equating of Jesus with the ready-made concepts of a pre-Christian Messianism was the origin of Paul’s glowing and inspired Christology. Not along any such lines was Paul debtor to the apocalyptists. What he did share with them was something different — the rapture of the forward view, the awareness of a life-and-death struggle between supernatural powers in the unseen, and the conviction that the times were moving on to God’s great crowning day.


Up to this point we have been concerned with Paul’s Jewish inheritance. But he was more than a Jew. He belonged to the wider world. Born in a Hellenistic city, and surrounded from his early youth by the varied influences of a Graeco-Roman environment, he brought with him into the Christian Church, as indeed was only natural, a wider horizon than that of the first preachers who had never been outside Palestine ; and it may be that even in his Tarsus days there had begun to stir in his heart some hint of that blunt, decisive question which later he was to fling out so challengingly, ” Is He the God of the Jews only ? Is He not also of the Gentiles ? ” * It is imperative, therefore, if we are to gain a true understanding of the apostle, to see him as a Jew of the Diaspora, and to watch how he reacted to the

1 Rom. 3:2 »


thought and culture and religion of the world around him.

The dispersion of the Jews among the nations, beginning with the forcible deportations under Tiglath-Pileser and Sargon, Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar, had proceeded on more peaceful lines after the Hellenising campaigns of Alexander had unified and opened up the world. The marriage of Europe and Asia — such was Alexander’s declared ideal ; and Jewish trade and commerce were not slow to take advantage of the new opportunities thus offered. When it fell to Rome to take up the task that Alexander had laid down, the process of unification was still further developed: frontiers once closed to Judaism now stood invitingly open. The day of separate, self-sufficient, antagonistic nations, gazing suspiciously at one another across bristling defences, was done. All the way from the Atlantic to the Caspian, from Britain to the Nile, from Hadrian’s Wall to the Euphrates, the Roman Peace held the world. From end to end of the Empire ran the great highways, triumphs of Roman engineering. Even barriers of language had largely vanished; for while each province still had its own tongue or dialect, everywhere the people were bilingual and all knew Greek. This was the world into which the Jew penetrated, greatly aided by Roman toleration, which had granted to his worship of Jehovah all the rights and privileges of a religio licita. Jewish settlements quickly sprang up everywhere. The New Testament itself bears impressive witness to the fact that in every town of any importance which the Christian preachers visited, alike in Asia and in Europe, they found a Jewish colony: and this gave them a useful point of contact for the initial stages of their mission. According to Philo,


there were over a million Jews in Egypt alone : two of the five districts into which Alexandria was divided were predominantly Jewish. Even Rome had its Jewish quarter. In the capital, indeed, their presence was not always welcome, and from time to time attempts were made to evict them: one such edict of expulsion, promulgated by the emperor Claudius, is referred to in the Acts of the Apostles, and corroborated by a famous sentence in Suetonius. 1 But they were too influential to be thus summarily dismissed, and when they began to find friends and adherents within the court itself their position was more or less secure. 2 The distance of these scattered Jewish communities from Jerusalem and the Temple, the headquarters of their ancestral faith, necessitated a change in the centre of gravity of their religion : it shifted from the Temple to the local synagogues. These gradually became the real home of their worship. Indeed, as the Book of Acts makes clear, so vital was the place which these new centres of common devotion and public instruction came to hold in the life of Diaspora Judaism that special synagogues had to be built in Jerusalem itself for the benefit of pilgrims and others temporarily residing in the city. 3 It was in the synagogue of Tarsus that the glory of the one true God and the majesty of the Mosaic Law first laid their spell upon Paul’s young mind and heart.

Now when a religion is transplanted from the land of its birth to alien soil, when it is exposed to a totally different mental climate and spiritual temperature,

1 Acts 18:2 . Suetonius, Claudius, 25 : ” Judaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit.” The meaning of ” impulsore Chresto ” is uncertain : see R. J. Knowling, EGT, ii. 384.
2 Poppaea, Nero’s wife, befriended the Jews.
3 Acts 6:9 .


there is always the possibility that in the course of a few generations it will change its character. Little by little the new atmosphere begins to tell. Diaspora Judaism seems early to have awakened to this danger, and resolute steps were taken to deal with it. Strict rules were laid down by the Rabbis to regulate the intercourse of Jews abroad with the pagan society around them. No blurring of the lines of difference was to be allowed. With a view to preserving Jewish identity and strengthening the national and religious self-consciousness, careful organization and close communication with the mother Church were enjoined. Temple dues were paid annually, and pilgrimages to Jerusalem were frequent : St. Luke’s description of the international character of the crowd present on the day of Pentecost speaks for itself. 1 But what mainly differentiated the Jew in foreign lands from his neighbours, and prevented him from being levelled down to the ways of the Hellenistic world, was his observance of the Law. The keeping of the Sabbath, the distinction between clean and unclean meats, the rite of circumcision, these things marked him off ; and as long as he stressed these with might and main, and remained loyal to them in soul, he could dare the subtle, encroaching influence of his environment to do their worst. Four-square he stood, dogged in his isolation, and proud of it ; able, like Nehemiah long before him, to say, ” I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” 2 That all this stringency of regulation was cordially approved by the young Jew of Tarsus is put beyond doubt by the passages already referred to in Acts and the epistles where he gives reminiscences of his early days. 3 No one could rival him in his determination to

1 Acts 2:5ff -.
2 Neh. 6:3 .
3 Acts 26« f -, Phil. 3 5f –


remain ” unspotted from the world.” To use the words of the high-priestly prayer of Jesus, he was in the world of Hellenism, without being of that world. Its ways he renounced, its wisdom he despised, its literature he largely ignored. Scholars who, on the basis of such fugitive literary allusions and quotations in Paul as “We are also His offspring” x or “Evil communications corrupt good manners,” 2 immediately declare that he had studied Cleanthes and Menander are committing themselves to a statement which is highly precarious, if not absurd. Tags like these tell nothing: not everyone who says “God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb” has read Laurence Sterne. If ever a Jew of the dispersion strove to be loyal to the land and law of his fathers, that Jew was Paul.

It must, however, be remarked that Diaspora Judaism, for all its aloofness, remained a real missionary force in the world. If it could be said even in Palestine that the scribes and Pharisees would ” compass sea and land to make one proselyte,” 3 the Jew abroad was certainly no less aggressive. His success as a missionary was due, in the main, to the extraordinary fascination which a lofty monotheism will always exercise upon the better elements in a pagan society which are growing weary of polytheism and its morally degrading accompaniments. It is not in the least surprising that subsequent generations saw an abundant fulfilment of the great, memorable prophecy of Zechariah — ” It shall come to pass that ten men, out of all languages of the nations, shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you ; for we have heard that God is with you.” 4 Earnest inquirers of this kind were

1 Acts 17″.
2 I Cor. 15:33 .
3 Matt. 23:16 .
4 Zech. 8″.


welcomed to the synagogue services, and soon every Jewish community throughout the Graeco-Roman world had its own circle of non-Jewish adherents. These were the oefiofievoL, or (fyo^ovfjLevoi rov Qeov, so familiar to us from the Book of Acts, including in their number men and women as noble and distinguished as Cornelius and Lydia. 1 Considerable tact and sympathy marked the Jewish attitude to these potential converts. They were not hurried nor driven, but led on little by little ; and as Harnack has shown, their adhesion to Judaism “ranged over the entire gamut of possible degrees, from the superstitious adoption of certain rites up to complete identification.” 2 No doubt many of them, like Naaman of old who worshipped Jehovah and yet continued to ” bow in the house of Rimmon,” were content with a compromise between their old faith and their new. 3 Easy terms of affiliation with the synagogue worship were available : but the ultimate goal to which Judaism sought in every case to bring them was the taking of the decisive step of full surrender to Jewish claims in the threefold ordinance of circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice. One circumstance which greatly stimulated this missionary development was the translation of the Old Testament Scriptures into Greek. It is probable enough that the making of the Septuagint at Alexandria in the time of the Ptolemies had no deliberately propagandist purpose at all, and rose simply out of the needs of a Jewish community which had more or less lost touch with the Semitic original ; 4 but once it was made, its value as propaganda was

1 Acts 10*-“- 35 , 13″ 16″, 17:4-17, 18:7 .
2 The Expansion of Christianity, i. 14.
3 II Kings 5:18 .
4 Wendland, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur, 196.


immense. It helped, more than anything else, to draw serious-minded pagans within the circle of Jewish influence. And the significance of all this lies in the fact that when the Christian mission to the Gentiles began, it was from these proselytes and ” God-fearers ” that a great mass of converts came. Paul, the Diaspora Jew, had long been in touch with them ; and now none knew better than he how to win these seeking souls for Christ.

We have seen, then, the vigour and determination with which the Jewish religion maintained its identity against the surrounding paganism. But the best defences, invincible though they may be to direct assault, are not proof against something so subtle and pervasive as an atmosphere ; and if Judaism made a profound and lasting mark on the Hellenistic world, that world did have its reactions on Judaism. That these reactions were largely unconscious ones, so far as Judaism itself was concerned, does not alter the fact that they were real and definite. 1 Continual contact with the outside world along the lines of trade and commerce and thought and social life resulted in the gradual permeating of the Diaspora with a new spirit, whose chief tokens were the passing away of Jewish provincialism and a growing emphasis on the rights and worth of the individual. Paul, like all his co-religionists

1 As specific instances of interaction the following may be mentioned. There were religious communities in Asia Minor where the worship of the Phrygian /ct’/pios 2a/3dfios and that of the Jewish nvpios 2a/3au>0 had been harmonized (Cumont, Les Religions Orientates, 97 f). A burial inscription from the Rheneia in Delos invokes rbv debv rbv vxf/KTTov, rbv Kupiov tuv irvevfj.&Twi> Kai irda-rjs crapxds, which is a blending of Septuagint and Hellenistic usage (Wendland, op. cit., 194). And some strange fusion of Judaism and Hellenism appears to have been partly at least responsible for the Colossian heresy (E. F. Scott, Colossians, in MNTC, 8 f.).


in Tarsus, breathed a Hellenistic atmosphere. He could not help himself. It was all round about him. His very illustrations and metaphors remind us of that. 1 Judaism might ban Greek amusements and call them of the devil, but there was something in Paul’s virile nature that responded to the thrill of the Greek games and the prowess of runners and boxers in the stadium, and he writes of these things as one who had seen them and taken delight in them. 2 Nor can there be any doubt that the proselytes, who in some synagogues were actually in the majority, brought with them new ideas and different ways of looking at life and its problems which passed over into the minds of their Jewish teachers. Moreover, the very use of the Greek tongue involved a certain infusion of the Greek spirit. To some degree this can be seen in the Septuagint itself — as, for example, in the modifying of the earlier Semitic anthropomorphism ; and we have to remember that, though Paul had read the Scriptures in Hebrew, the Septuagint was his Bible. But it is in the branches of Jewish literature represented by the Wisdom of Solomon and the work of Philo that Hellenistic influence can be most clearly seen. The former, which Paul almost certainly had read, 3 is the product of a remarkably keen and able mind almost equally at home in Greek ideas and Jewish religion ; while the latter, coming from one who was an outstanding contemporary of both Jesus and Paul, is a sustained attempt to show that everything best and noblest in pagan philosophy can be found within the

1 Even the Greek theatre may have contributed something: Deissmann refers to an inscription marking the seats assigned to Jews in the theatre at Miletus (Light from the Ancient East, 446).
2 I Cor. 9″ «■
3 Cf. Acts 17″ with Wisdom 13* ; Rom. i 25 ” 31 with Wisd. i4 2V28 ■Rom. g 21 with Wisd. 15 7 ; I Cor. i5 4S with Wisd. r5».


Old Testament. Philo claimed, for instance, to have discovered the essential harmony between the Mosaic Law and the Stoic Law of Nature. In any estimate of Paul’s preparation for his Christian apostleship due allowance must be made for these trends in the Diaspora Judaism in which he had been reared. 1 On his own confession, he was ” debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians.” 2 And this raises wider questions still. For apart from the Hellenistic influences which were already present in Paul’s Jewish environment, there were others with which his world-wide work as a Christian missionary must have brought him in contact. In particular, there were two great contemporary movements, each with a strong popular appeal — Stoicism and the mystery-religions. To these we must now turn.

The Stoic school, founded by Zeno three hundred years before the Christian era, had gained an enormous prestige, and by the time of Paul its adherents were to be found everywhere. It had largely supplanted the older schools tracing descent back to Plato and Aristotle: these had now lost the inner vitality of their great days in the past, and their present leaders were quite incapable of rising to any Socratic heights — ” mountain-guides who could not climb,” as Gercke has put it. 3 Stoicism filled the gap, and by its combination of moral earnestness and humanitarian spirit appealed, not only

1 H. Bulcock suggests that Alexandrian thought had a new appeal for Paul after his contact with Apollos (Religion and its New Testament Expression, 220).
2 Rom. 1:14 .
3 Gercke and Norden, Einleitung in die Altertumswissenscha/t, ii. 323 : ” Bergfiihrer, die selbst nicht steigen konriten.”


to those trained in philosophy, but also to the popular mind and heart. The common man, no less than Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, felt its power. Tarsus itself was a prominent centre of Stoic culture, and Strabo mentions by name five distinguished Stoic teachers who resided there. Wandering scholars and orators carried the message far and wide. It was the day of itinerant preachers (the importance of this fact for the work of the Christian apostles has never been adequately stressed), and in the streets and market-places of Asia Minor and Europe the Stoic evangelist was a familiar figure. Wendland compares him to the Salvation Army missioner in the towns and villages of Great Britain to-day. 1 The deep things of the soul, the answer to the universal quest for happiness, the need for moral reformation and spiritual rebirth, the way to victory over life and death — these were the themes on which the Stoic orator discoursed with all the eloquence and appeal at his command. It is no wonder that, in that weary, disillusioned world, men stopped to listen.

Now resemblances in point of style, language, and idea can be found between the Stoics and Paul. Salient features of the style of the Diatribes, as the Stoic discourses were called, were their rhetorical questions, their preference for short disconnected sentences, their use of the device of an imaginary objector, their flinging backwards and forwards of challenge and rejoinder, their concrete illustrations from life. 2 Paul, as we have seen already, 3 was a preacher first and a writer second; and it is in those passages of his epistles where his

1 Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur, 85.
2 A full account will be found in Bultmann, Der Stil der paulinischen Predigt, 20-46. 3 See p. 8.


preaching style breaks through, as for example in Romans 2-3 and 9-1 1, that the resemblances to the Diatribe are most marked. 1 Here we meet again the dialogue with the imaginary hearer, the swift, lively repartee, the half-ironical apostrophe, the direct personal appeal, and all the other weapons in the Stoic preacher’s armoury. The great Pauline sentence ” For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever,” 2 has frequent parallels in Stoic literature, and might be called (as Norden has called it) “a Stoic doxology.” 3 The word ” conscience ” (crvvelSrjois) which Paul uses 4 is definitely Stoic in origin, as are also the conceptions of Nature and the law implanted by Nature in Gentile hearts. 5 Here Paul comes very near the Greek preachers of morality. “Live according to Nature,” according, that is, to the law of a rational universe which has become immanent in man — this was a recognized Stoic maxim; and the Christian apostle discovers in this Law of Nature a revelation only less complete and a command only less binding than the Law of Moses itself. The speech on the Areopagus, with its references to the God who “dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” who “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things,” in whom “we live and move and have our being,” who is not “like unto gold or silver or stone, graven by art and man’s device,” has a definitely Stoic ring about it. 6

1 C. H. Dodd suggests that Rom. 9-1 1 is really a sermon on the Rejection of Israel which Paul has incorporated in his epistle (Romans, in MNTC, 148 ff.).
2 Rom. 11:3 «.

3 Agnostos Theos, 240 ff . Norden compares Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, iv. 23 : £k crou iravra, iv sol ird-vTa., «’j which strengtheneth me,” 2 the aurap/ceia, that is, not of self-control, but of Christ-control. ” What then ? ” asks Epictetus in one place, “is it possible here and now to be faultless ? Impossible ! But this is possible — to have ever been straining every energy towards the avoidance of sin.” 3 A fine sentiment, without doubt — the word of a real fighter, thoroughly characteristic of the Stoic outlook at its best. But it is a different world entirely that breaks upon you with the cry “Now thanks be to God who makes my life a constant pageant of triumph in Christ !” 4 Clearly this second fighter has no need of any weapons borrowed from the first.

The statement is sometimes made that Stoicism bequeathed to Paul a dualistic outlook upon life. In answer to this, two things must be said. On the one hand, a dualism of a metaphysical kind (and it is this

1 For this distinction cf. Wendland, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur, 232.
2 Phil. 4 »-i 3 .
3 Epict- iv I2
4 II cor. 2:14 .


that Stoicism represents) is entirely lacking in Paul: it simply does not interest him. 1 On the other hand, the apostle’s practical and ethical dualism, appearing in his contrast between the spirit and the flesh, was the outcome, not of theory or study or borrowing, but of his own hard and bitter experience at the hands of life — the experience which we find mirrored so vividly in Romans 7. Of the half contemptuous estimate of the body in which Stoic dualism issued, Paul shows not a trace ; and when the Authorized Version makes him speak of ” our vile body,” 2 we can only say that it is thoroughly misleading for modern ears. ” The body that belongs to our low estate ” is what he intended. 3 How far he was from following the Stoics here is made evident by the challenge he flings out to the Corinthians, a challenge which may indeed have been aimed precisely at those who had come too much under Stoic influence, ” Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you ? Glorify God in your body.” 4

Most crucial of all, however, is the fact that Stoicism, worked out to its logical conclusion, is a religion of despair. Now Paul knew this. There were evidences of it all around him. Tens of thousands of souls were seeking release and self-conquest and victory over the world, but Paul could see with piercing clearness that the lines which the Stoic quest for these things was following could never by any possibility lead to the peace and freedom which he himself had actually found in Christ. It was on a wrong track altogether: and was Paul, realizing this, likely to borrow much?

1 Titius, Der Paulinismus unter dem Gesichtspunkt der Seligkeit, 249.
2 Phil. 3«
3 So Moffatt.
4 I Cor. 6 l » f –


What could the religion of frustration give to the religion of fulfilment ? Across the pages of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius the shadow lies. Beneath their bravest words the feeling of futility lurks. What is God, after all, but just Fate — eifiapfievrj ? x And what can man do, caught in the toils of a harsh determinism, but bow his head and submit ? Nor can he look forward with any lift of the heart to what may come hereafter, for immortality too has slipped away ; and Epictetus could only bid a father kissing his child remember that it was a mortal thing he loved, and whisper while he kissed ” To-morrow thou wilt die.” This was the direction in which Stoicism had its face ; and the road led — as Paul saw — straight out towards unyielding despair. We grant that here and there he availed himself of Stoic terms and ideas. We grant that in these he could find a point of contact with his readers. We grant that he accepted the Stoic message as in some sense a schoolmaster to lead lost souls to Christ. But we shall not be inclined to overestimate the Stoic’s contribution to the mind of the apostle when we remember that, whereas the former was living in a twilight deepening into midnight, the latter had already seen the day break and the shadows flee away.


We turn, finally, to Paul’s alleged debt to the mysteries. It is here that the “religious-historical” school claims to have produced the most revolutionary results. This school, of which Gunkel’s Schdp/ung und

1 Gercke points out that Vergil, Aeneid i. 262, with its reference to ” fatorum arcana ” is ” ganz stoisch ” (Einleitung in die Altertums-wissenschaft, ii. 345).


Chaos was the protagonist for the Old Testament and Bousset’s Kyrios Christos for the New, represents undoubtedly one of the most important developments of Biblical study. In particular, it has set the whole question of Christian origins in a new light. Formerly it was taken as axiomatic that early Christianity was an isolated phenomenon, quite without affinities in the world to which it came. But now it has been related to its environment. A multitude of contemporary faiths spoke, like the Gospel, of redemption and salvation. Everywhere hearts were hungry for what Christ could offer. The age was ” excessively religious,” as Paul told the Athenians. 1 So the Gospel has been set in its historic background. But the process has not been unattended with danger. Certain leaders of the religious-historical school, in the exuberance of the new method, have pushed it much too far. The pendulum has swung right across. Once it was held that everything in Christianity was new : now parallels are found everywhere, and nothing is new. Christianity dissolves into its Hellenistic environment, and all that seemed fresh and original and God-created simply vanishes away. Now it is in relation to Paul and the mystery religions that the most startling results have been obtained. Paul, professedly a ” Hebrew of the Hebrews,” becomes a ” Hellenist of the Hellenists.” His chief affinities are found to be with the syncretistic Oriental cults. Jesus, it is said, preached an ethical redemption, but later Christianity, under Paul’s Hellenizing influence, preached a metaphysical redemption. Jesus, who came as a prophet and teacher, was raised, again by the same influence, to the rank of divinity. Strange excesses these may seem, but they involve a crucial issue. Did

1 Acts I J 23 , 8eL6 5

Paul come in as an interloper and innovator, and graft mystery ideas upon the simple Gospel of Jesus and of primitive Christianity, thus changing the essential character of the Gospel — or was he loyal to his Master?” Is he to be explained,” as Wernle demands bluntly, ” from the underworld of ancient magic, or from the standpoint of spiritual religion 7 ” 1

On the general question of the influence of the pagan cults in the early centuries, there are three facts which have never been sufficiently stressed. The first is that the Church of those centuries consistently refused to make any terms whatever with the syncretistic religions. 2 The great attraction of Isis, Cybele, Mithra and the rest was their accommodating spirit : they were quite content to live together and share the honours. But the young God with the nail-prints in His hands would not live together or share the honours with any. There might be, as Paul put it, ” gods many and lords many; but to us ” — note the emphatic challenge of the rjfilv — ” to us there is but one God — the Father, and one Lord — Jesus Christ.” 3 In other words, what com- munion had Christ with Dionysus, or the love of Calvary with the love of Aphrodite ? ” No terms with syncretism ” was from the first the Church’s spirit.

The second fact is that it was precisely this refusal of the Church to syncretize which led to the great persecutions.4 If Loisy and his followers are right, if Christianity is just another mystery religion, then the blood of the martyrs is inexplicable. When Isis and Cybele came to Rome, they were welcomed with open

1 Jesus und Paulus, 67.
2 Inge, Outspoken Essays, ii. 52.
3 I Cor. 8 5 *-
4 This is admirably brought out by E. F. Scott, The Gospel and its Tributaries, 276.


arms. But when Jesus of Nazareth came, Rome girded herself to fight Him to the death. It was because the Church under no circumstances would play the game of syncretism that the Church, like its Lord, was crucified, dead, and buried. And it was because of the same refusal that the Church — again like its Lord — survived death, and broke from the tomb, and went to work in the world.

“The men of the East may spell the stars,
And times and triumphs mark,
But the men signed of the Cross of Christ
Go gaily in the dark.”

The third fact is that it was the difference, not the familiarity, of the new religion that impressed the pagan world. A famous passage in Tertullian, in which the autobiographical note is clear, illustrates this : ” Every man who sees this great endurance is filled with questioning. He is on fire to look into it, and find its cause ; and when he has found it, immediately he follows it himself.” x And the unknown author of the Epistle to Diognetus represents the outside world as wondering ” what this new society, this new interest, is which has come into human experience, now and not before.” 2 It is hard to see why the twentieth century should force upon the first and second centuries parallels which they themselves would not have recognized. Even the syncretizing pagan recognized in Christianity a new thing on the earth.

Turning now to the mysteries themselves, to which Paul is said to have owed so much, we find that definite data about their doctrines and rites are scantier than

1 ad Scapulam, 5.
2 Ep. ad Diognetum, 1.


we could have wished. That their influence was widely diffused is indeed well known : communities for the worship of Egyptian and Phrygian deities existed all over the Empire at the beginning of the Christian era. In all the great centres of population where Paul founded his Churches, these cult-associations were also at work. But literary remains are very scarce. This indeed might have been expected from the fact that the initiates were bound to secrecy. “I would tell you,” says Apuleius, “were it lawful for me to tell you ; you should know it, if it were lawful for you to hear. But both the ears that heard these things, and the tongue that told them, would reap the evil results of their rashness.” * Chronology, too, is a problem, and in many cases it is quite impossible to say with any certainty whether a particular mystery rite was contemporaneous with Paul or emerged later. The famous ceremony of the ” taurobolium,” for example, is sometimes adduced as offering a striking parallel to the Christian conception of dying to the old life and rising to life eternal ; but this is quite illegitimate, for though the ceremony itself may have originated early, it was at first regarded merely as a sacrifice, and the idea of the rebirth of the initiate came to be associated with it only as a comparatively late development. Moffatt characterizes the efforts of Reitzenstein and Bousset to read back the main mystery doctrines into the first century as ” more ingenious than convincing.” 2 Moreover, the whole matter is further complicated by an apparent absence of any logical coherence in the ideas with which these religions worked. Take one illustration of this — the idea of communion with the deity. Here

1 Metamorphosis, xi. 23.
2 Grace in the New Testament, 52.


a crude, coarse materialism and a spiritual mysticism were inextricably mixed. The methods of attaining communion with the deity ranged from the devouring of the flesh of a bull and from all manner of wild frenzies induced by grossly sensuous means, through the calmer visions of a contemplative ecstasy and the regenerating influence of divinely communicated revelations, up to the blessedness of a mystic trance and incorporation in the life of the eternal spirit : all these strata are present, and it is almost impossible to disntangle them.

Still, the general aim of the mysteries was clear enough. 1 Behind them all lay the age-long yearning for salvation, liberty, Tightness with God. Fate, and Fate’s worst terror — Death — these were the enemies. Into this situation came the mysteries, offering a regeneration which would draw death’s sting and confer immortality. The way to this regeneration was through direct contact with the god, resulting in a change of nature — or deification — partly physical and partly spiritual. Surface resemblances to Christianity are here manifest ; and probably Wendland is right in his opinion that the cults would have welcomed Jesus as a powerful syncretistic ally. 2

Prominent among the religious influences of the Hellenistic world were the State mysteries of Eleusis, where a passion-play dramatizing the recovery of Persephone from the underworld was used to foster the assurance of immortality. 3 But the cults of Cybele and Isis came to have an appeal and a fascination which the State mysteries lacked. At Eleusis the celebrations,

1 H. A. A. Kennedy, St. Paul and the Mystery Religions, 199 f.
2 Die hcllenistisch-romische Kultur, 167.
3 E. Rohde. Psyche, i. 278 ff.


being really of the nature of a national festival, lacked warmth and intimacy ; and this the Oriental cults supplied. The centre of the Cybele cult was the myth of the restoration to life of the beloved youth Attis, and the story was enacted in the ritual and carnival of the annual spring-festival. Much of the ritual was flagrantly barbaric ; and when we read about the delirious dances, the gashing with knives, the orgies of licence that were tolerated and even encouraged, we begin to realize that the significant thing about the relationship between the Cybele-Attis cult and Hellenistic Christianity was not any superficial resemblance, but their quite startling difference. The Isis-Serapis cult was on a higher plane. Descended directly from the ancient Egyptian worship of Osiris, it had a lofty liturgical tradition behind it, and a moral tone to which the worship of the Phrygian goddess could never lay claim. Thanks to Apuleius and his famous account, in the Metamorphosis, of the initiation of Lucius, we can estimate fairly accurately the force and appeal of the Isis Mysteries. 1 Only after long prayer and fasting and ascetic preparations was the candidate for initiation accepted. Careful examination of heart and cleansing of spirit were demanded. Gradually the initiate was led on to the moment of vision (eTTOTTjela) , and to the crowning experience of identification with the deity. This spiritualizing of religion, which can be traced in the Isis-cult, was carried a stage further in the Hermetic mystery literature, where we find the conception of regeneration apart from external ritual, and where deification occurs not through outward observance but

1 Kennedy cogently points out that though this account dates from the middle of the second century a.d., it presupposes a long tradition behind it (St. Paul and the Mystery Religions, 69).


by attaining to the knowledge (yvcoais) of God. 1 It is easy for us to understand the powerful influence which the Oriental cults wielded when they emerged into the Graeco-Roman world. They appealed by the very atmosphere of mystery surrounding them, by their exotic flavour, and by the dazzling, spectacular experiences they promised to their initiates. But above all, they appealed by the new hope they kindled in disillusioned hearts, by the gift of immortality they offered, and by their cry to a world sunk in winter and weariness that springtime and the singing of birds had come.

What, then, was Paul’s relation to the movement as a whole ? On the positive side, three facts are important. It is clear, first, that the presence, on the fringes of Diaspora Judaism, of those “God-fearers” or proselytes to whom reference has already been made, would bring Paul into direct contact with the main currents of religious thought and practice of the peoples among whom his missions were carried on. Many of the converts were initiates of the local cults. Some of them, as the history of the Colossian heresy would suggest, carried part of the jargon of the cults over into
their Christianity. 2 We see here one channel at any rate along which a working knowledge of the mystery religions came to the apostle. Second, due weight must be given to Paul’s own words to the Corinthians — ” I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” 3 To Paul as a preacher, it was essential to know the background of his hearers’ thinking, and to be able to meet them on their own

1 R. Reitzenstein, Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, 136 ff.
2 E. F. Scott, Colossians, 8 (in MNTC).
3 I Cor. g 32 .


ground : ideas familiar to an audience born and bred in a Hellenistic atmosphere would be turned to the service of the Gospel. Finally, it must not be forgotten that fundamentally the mysteries at their best and the Christian Gospel were appealing to the same deep human instinct — “My soul thirsteth for God.” Philo might call the mysteries “claptrap and buffoonery,” x but there was more than that in them. ” An old, rich world of culture in its death agony, in its yearning for a new creation and a second birth, in its ever restless, ever unsatisfied search for God — this is the picture we have of paganism in its decline.” 2 The babel of voices in that dying world and the clamour of its competing religions may have drowned the voice of the Spirit: but Paul with his ear to the ground heard something deeper, something passionate, almost pathetic in its passion, the cry of the souls of men for that very Christ through whom, in the sudden glory of Damascus, his own restlessness had found a perfect rest. And with the Hellenistic religions this was his third and best point of contact.

But granting all this, we should be well advised to go warily in estimating Paul’s debt. And that for three reasons. To begin with, can we say with any certainty that Paul was deeply versed in Hellenistic religious literature? Admittedly he was familiar with mystery terms which were current and in the air at the time when he was writing, and occasionally he turned these to his own use ; but to postulate a thoroughgoing acquaintance on his part with mystery literature, or to suggest that his use of current religious terms necessarily implies a borrowing of thought and idea as well

1 De Specialibus Legibus, i. 319.
2 Wendland, Die hellenistisch-romische Kultur, 186.


as expression, is a different matter. Here Reitzenstein and his school have all the probabilities against them, and have jumped to conclusions in a perfectly arbitrary way.

More important, however, is a second consideration, namely, that it is unnecessary and unsound to trace
back to the mystery religions Pauline conceptions whose true ancestry might more profitably be looked for in the Old Testament. Now this is quite crucial. It was in Judaism that Christianity had its roots ; and therefore the exegesis which turns to Hellenistic sources for the genesis of Paul’s regulative ideas, without having in the first instance attempted at least to trace the origin of these ideas in the Old Testament, is entirely unscientific. Two illustrations of this may be mentioned. The early Church, as we know, applied to Jesus the title Kvpios, Lord. Now Bousset, in his famous book Kyrios Christos, laid it down dogmatically that this was derived directly from the usage of the cults, and came into Christianity by parallelism with such phrases as “our Lord Serapis.” x But why Paul should be indebted to the mysteries for a term with which his own Bible, the Septuagint, was laden, is not explained. What are the facts ? The name Lord was being given to Jesus by the primitive community before Paul had ever appeared on the scene at all. 2 The great Psalm beginning, ” The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand,” was already being interpreted in a Messianic and Christian sense. 3 ” Jahveh ” in the Hebrew Scriptures had become Kvpios in the Greek translation: the phrase Xpiords Kvpios was the Septuagint rendering

1 Kyrios Christos, 84 ff . Cf . C. Clemen, Primitive Christianity and its Non-Jewish Sources, 337.
2 Acts 2 38 .
3 Ps. no ; cf. Acts 2 s *.


of ” the Lord’s anointed.” x This phrase occurs also in the Psalms of Solomon, a Pharisaic work of the first century B.C. : ” They are all holy, and their king is XpioTos- Kvpios.” 2 Very significant, too, is the early Christian usage of the phrase ” the brothers of the Lord.” 3 No doubt the word Lord as constantly applied to Jesus by Paul and the other apostles must have carried added weight and force for pagan minds because of its associations in the realm of the Hellenistic religious cults with which they were familiar ; but to derive the Christian usage from the cults, overlooking the Old Testament altogether, can only be called absurd. The primitive watchword ” Maranatha ” would alone be sufficient to refute Bousset’s position. 4 Or take the word ” mystery ” itself. If, as is sometimes stated, Paul took this idea over from the pagan cults, we should naturally expect its meaning in the epistles to be an occult rite, or an esoteric doctrine reserved for the privileged few. In point of fact, the idea in Paul is entirely different. The Septuagint had used ^ivar-qpiov for the hidden counsel of God, disclosed by revelation; and Paul, following this line, makes the word bear the sense of ” open secret.” Indeed, the paradox of the New Testament usage of the word, as Lightfoot has well pointed out, is that almost invariably it is found in connection with terms denoting revelation and proclamation. The mystery is ” a truth which was once hidden but now is revealed, a truth which without special revelation would have been unknown.” 5 Thus Paul uses it of the divine purpose to sum up all things in

1 Lam. 4:20 .
2 Psalms of Solomon, xvii. 36.
3 Gal. 1:1 ‘, I Cor. 9 s . On this point see Wernle, Jesus und Paulus, 20 f .
4 I Cor. 16:22 . See p. 47.
5 Lightfoot, Colossians, 166 f.


Christ, 1 of the consummation awaiting believers, 2 but principally of the glorious truth that the saving will of God includes Gentiles equally with Jews. 3 In all this, the apostle’s independence of the cults is manifest. Nor should it ever have been forgotten that the whole idea of an esoteric mystery, an occult doctrine, was foreign to a religion whose preachers were always and everywhere characterized by their napp-qaLa, ” glad fearlessness of speech,” a religion whose invitation from the Galilean days onwards was ” Come and see.”

The third consideration which ought to make us cautious in estimating Paul’s debt to the cults is the most important of all. This was a man in whose personality a vital conversion experience had let loose creative powers. The Paul whom Bousset and others would give us is a mere painstaking borrower ; and one may be pardoned for feeling that much of the haste to account for Paul by his environment is simply a failure to give the Holy Spirit, who is always a creative Spirit, His due. A sentence of Wernle, in the reply he wrote to Bousset, is worth pondering : ” As for religious relationships and experiences such as that known as Christ-mysticism, one either experiences them, or one does not experience them ; in no case can they be derived from the environment.” 4 That is the root of the matter; and Paul himself expressed it when he said, ” There is a new creation whenever a man comes to be in Christ.” 6 The Churches of Asia and Europe to which

1 Eph. 1:9 .
2 I Cor. 15:51 .
3 Eph. 3:3 “-, Col. i 26f –
4 Wernle, Jesus und Paulus, 44. Cf. ib. 92 : ” ein Mann wie Paulus nicht von aussen, sondern von innen verstanden werden muss.” T. R. Glover, in an interesting comparison, refutes the idea that Plato was simply ” the product of Periclean democracy and Orphic religion ” {Paul of Tarsus, 74).
5 II Cor. 5″ (Moffatt).


the apostle wrote had come into existence, not as man-made institutions carefully modelled on the pattern of existing cult-associations, but directly God-made and God-inspired, and on the crest of a divine enthusiasm; and Paul, with the glory of Christ throbbing in his soul and Ming every thought, had no need of second-hand inspiration drawn from Demeter or Serapis or anyone else. The Marcionites raised the question, ” What new thing did Jesus bring ? ” And the answer of Irenaeus was, ” He brought all that was new, in bringing Himself.” x Clearly the apostle who, writing of that same Lord, could say, ” I live ; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,” 2 had within himself the secret of all creative power. And if this fundamental fact had received the prominence it deserved, the exaggerated views of Paul’s debt to contemporary religions could never have arisen.

In conclusion, two decisive features of Paul’s Gospel, which once for all lift it out of contact with the Hellenistic cults, must be stressed — its ethical insistence, and its emphasis on faith. William James, in a well-known passage, 3 tells of a remark once made by a humble carpenter of his  acquaintance : ” There is very little difference between one man and another; but what little there is, is very important.” So we may say that while here and there, on the surface, there may seem to be little enough difference between the Christian and the Hellenistic use of terms, that little is quite decisively important. Like Paul, the mysteries spoke of salvation; but what a new Christ-given energy, what a moral

1 ” Omnem novitatem attulit semet ipsum afferens.”
2 Gal. 2:20 .
3 The Will to Believe, etc. 256.


dynamic, marked Paul’s use of the word ! In the cults, awrqpia was redemption from ignorance and from fate: hence its method was purely ritual, its nature non-ethical. ” Neither Demeter nor Isis was very squeamish,” says Glover pointedly. 1 Sometimes indeed it is suggested that when Christianity faced the Gentile world it accommodated itself by subordinating the ethical aspects of redemption to the metaphysical: Jesus aimed simply at changing men’s wills, whereas Paul thought in terms of a change of essence. But this is extremely precarious. For on the one hand, both things, the renewal of the will and the change of essence, were already present in the teaching of Jesus, and not only present but inextricably bound up together ; and on the other hand, Paul’s Gospel remained moral to the core. Indeed, the ultimate difference between the Hellenistic and Pauline views of salvation lies just here, that in the former the ethical implications were continually being lost sight of, while in the latter they were deliberately set in the foreground and kept there. No priest of Cybele ever bound an initiate with such a terrific moral obligation as this — ” The love of Christ constraineth us . . . that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them.” 2 Wrought out under the shadow of the Cross, the apostolic doctrine of salvation stands on a different moral plane from Hellenism, and indeed from all other creeds for ever.

The other feature which, along with this ethical insistence, sets Paul’s Gospel apart is its emphasis on faith. Here we touch on the comparisons which are often drawn between the facts of the death and

1 Paul of Tarsus, 133.
2 II Cor. 5″ * •


resurrection of Jesus in the Christian preaching and the myth of the dying and rising god familiar in mystery lore. All these efforts to assert parallelism, it must be stated explicitly, are built on a radical fallacy — the fallacy on which G. K. Chesterton, referring to this very matter, put his finger when he declared, ” There can be no parallel between what was admittedly a myth or mystery and what was admittedly a man.” l The Jesus of Paul was a historic Being who had died on a historic Cross: the Osiris and Attis of the mysteries were ” mythological personifications of the processes of vegetation.” 2 But besides this, there is another consideration which is frequently overlooked altogether, but which seems to the present writer decisive. Paul himself states that the preaching of the death of Jesus was ” unto the Greeks foolishness.” 3 Why should it have been foolishness if, as we are confidently told, that Greek world would recognise the story at once and have half a dozen parallels ready ? The plain fact is that there was no such recognition. It was precisely because no parallels could be found, because the Hellenistic world had nothing to compare it with and therefore could not place it or grasp it, that the death of Jesus seemed ” foolishness.” And it follows from all this that the cognate conception of dying and rising with the Saviour-god, which finds a place in the mysteries, has nothing to do with Paul’s doctrine of the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ. In the cults, this conception is sensuous and external and ritualistic : in Paul, the heart and soul of it is faith. So, too, we come to see that between pagan and Christian Sacraments there is a great gulf fixed —

1 G. K. Chesterton, The Thing, 215.
2 Kennedy, 5/. Paul and the Mystery-Religions, 213.
3 I Cor. i«.


the former crass and gross and materialistic, the latter spiritual through and through ; the former appealing ex opere operato, the latter founded on faith alone. This is the final, irreconcilable divergence. The Hellenistic religious world had nothing to say about faith, and Reitzenstein’s effort to show that ttlotls had a place in the mysteries fails completely : 1 Christianity had everything to say about it. Osiris and Cybele never thought of including faith in their vocabulary: Jesus of Nazareth made it the alpha and the omega of His, and His followers saw in Him its author and perfecter. 2 Initiation into the mysteries left faith out of sight, but baptism into Christ enthroned it. With the one, faith was nowhere ; with the other, it was everywhere. That is the last, decisive difference between the mystery religions and the apostle Paul, the final, fathomless gulf ; and across it no bridge can be thrown.

Within recent years an effort was made, in connection with a great international missionary advance, to assess the main non-Christian religions of to-day and to compare them with the faith of the New Testament. The striking words in which Dr. John R. Mott 3 summed up the results of that investigation may well do duty to close our present study and stand as a verdict on the relationship between the religions of the Hellenistic world nineteen hundred years ago and the message which Paul came preaching. ” It proved that the more open-minded, thorough, and honest we were in dealing with these non-Christian faiths, and the more just and generous we were, the higher Christ loomed in His absolute uniqueness, sufficiency, and supremacy — as

1 Die hellenistischen Mysterienreligionen, 94 flf.
2 Heb. 12:2 .
3 International Review of Missions, Jan. 1931, 105.


One other than all the rest, strong among the weak, erect among the fallen, believing among the faithless, clean among the defiled, living among the dead — the Fountain-head of vitality, the world’s Redeemer and Lord of all.”

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