Soul Share

"striving with the same soul" (Phil 1:27)

“He then who has observed with intelligence the administration of the world, and has learned that the greatest and supreme and the most comprehensive community is that which is composed of men and God -- for these only are by their nature formed to have communion with God, being by means of reason conjoined with God -- why should not such a man call himself a citizen of the world, why not a son of God, and why should he be afraid of anything which happens among men?"
Epictetus, Discourses, 1.9.3

Rationale for Soul Share

I've tried to give here a concise summary of the rationale for interpreting early Christianity in the way I'm proposing and how Soul Share might function to support the type of Christianity that results. The book I am writing is an attempt to give a detailed argument, but this is a précis of what I plan to write. I acknowledge that this is different than traditional Christianity and what I propose might seem strange or shocking to people.

  1. As someone born into western and Christianized culture, I am part of an existing narrative that is intrinsically dependent on the Judeo-Christian tradition and on classical Greek culture. A focal point is the biblical story as it developed in the first century CE out of a Hellenized form of Judaism. Since all of the writings of the earliest Christians are in Greek, it is reasonable to interpret the texts based on contextual meaning within Greco-Roman culture, most specifically on the rhetoric of speaking and writing and on philosophical systems and language.

  2. Since I am a non-Jew, the writings of Paul of Tarsus (written to primarily Gentile communities, who were most likely God-fearers, those who were attracted to or proselytes to Judaism) are the most relevant to my own situation. They were also the first written communications about the life and faith of communities following Jesus.

  3. I am compelled by the lack of many references in the letters of Paul to any existing information about the life and teachings of Jesus as contained in the later gospel tradition to believe that there was actually little or no oral tradition, whether in a supposed original Aramaic or a translated Greek form. If it existed, Paul would have known about it; if he knew about it, he would have written about it. In Paul’s letters there is a blaring lack of some of the most basic language of the gospel tradition such as calling the followers of Jesus disciples, of basing claims about Jesus on his being the Jewish messiah, and of the type of kingdom referred to in the gospels. Therefore, I understand the gospels to be later compositions depicting Jesus in story form (a similar literary genre to Greco-Roman lives, novels, and romances).

    1. The gospels begin with the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead, which signified he was a wise teacher who experienced apotheosis following his heroic martyrdom. The gospels developed this concept to show who Jesus was by putting into story form the teachings and actions of a divine teacher as a wandering, wonder-working, wise man. The working of wonders was proof that he was a wise teacher.

    2. Because of the experience of Jewish Christians in the late first century CE, who were seeking legitimacy and legality in opposition to other Jewish groups, they sought to place themselves as the true heirs to the ancient Jewish tradition and its scriptures by depicting Jesus as being the Jewish messiah and fulfilling ancient prophecies by creative ways of interpreting biblical texts known from the Greek translations and inventing Aramaic phrases for the purpose of verisimilitude. In spite of this, most of the stories and teachings depend on Hellenistic forms of writing and philosophical concepts.

    3. The Dead Sea Scrolls are considered to be proof of an anti-Hellenistic movement and the predominance in Palestine of a staunchly Hebrew culture. If Qumran represents an Essene group establishing a Hebrew settlement near the Jordan River, it is not necessarily an adequate picture of everyday life in Judea and the Galilee, but rather an aberrant group trying to reclaim an ancient tradition and culture.

  4. The letters of Paul give evidence of a writer who is familiar with Greek forms of rhetoric, Greco-Roman types of letter writing and moral persuasion, philosophical concepts, and literary devices. Paul is decidedly committed to being an observant Jew, but does adapt himself – as expected for someone acting as a philosophical guide – to the Gentile context and condition. Even if one can find language in Paul’s letters similar to what is found in rabbinic literature, that tradition is later and itself influenced by Greek philosophy, rhetoric, and logic.

  5. Paul’s theological argument about the Gentiles is that they have been provided the means of being in a relationship with God (the one, living, and true God of the Jews) apart from becoming, in effect, Judean citizens through males undergoing circumcision and self-identifying as Judeans. This was brought about by Jesus’ death as an innocent martyr, who died for the benefit of others. In Greek tradition, this type of death confers benefits on a city or nation and can avert and satisfy God’s justice against a people. It was considered that the Gentile nations rejected God’s covenant and therefore were without means of atonement for sin. God’s justice against them built up over the centuries, but was satisfied by the faithfulness of Jesus in his death. The Gentile sinners were now considered no longer to be at odds with God but reconciled. As such, they shared in the benefits of being rightly related to God through Jesus and in some way associated with the Jewish people whose covenant with God was still intact.

  6. Paul indicates that the Jewish people remain God’s covenant people, that the Torah continued to be their national constitution, and God’s promises remained in effect. The works of the Torah functioned as a way for them to continue to be right with God, but were not a means of salvation – the covenant established their rightful place interminably.

  7. Paul’s mission was to make Gentiles aware of this good news of what Jesus had accomplished and to persuade them to acknowledge their participation in Jesus and the power and presence of God to help them live moral lives (apart from following Torah as Jewish proselytes). The form of moral exhortation he used was not in opposition to current forms of Hellenistic Judaism, but was adapted in an eclectic way to the situation of Gentile followers of Jesus.

  8. Paul began from the belief that Jesus was resurrected, which confirmed that Jesus had become a divine being through apotheosis, which itself proved that Jesus had achieved the goal available to heroes and sages. Since he had achieved that, he must have been the sort of person who progressed in the philosophical life and functioned as an example to follow. Those who follow Jesus in the philosophical life not only have the help of God’s spirit but have the hope that following his example will lead to the human attaining the ultimate goal of human existence and become immortal and divine through resurrection from the realm of the dead to the realm of God’s presence beyond the sky.

  9. The divine state is characterized by being unaffected by the upheaval of emotions that are responses to impulses triggered by unexpected circumstances of human existence. The openness to the course of life and to whatever happens brings about a state of tranquility. Error in this context is not a transgression of divine law but a mistake in moral judgment about what is advantageous and what is harmful to a person’s well-being and progress in development and as such error causes a person to experience retrogression rather than progression. Forms of spiritual exercises (synonymous with philosophical, cognitive, or mental exercises) train a person to be prepared to respond with proper judgment regarding circumstances. By practice and action a person makes progress toward the goal of perfection (as a completed human, all that a person is meant to be) and of experiencing a flourishing life (happiness, success, well-being = Gk eudaimonia), a divine way of living. This is made easier by participating in a community of friends who provide encouragement, guidance from more mature members, and even critique and admonishment. As people experience development from a more self-centered immature state to becoming a mature human, they come to understand that the world is a unity and they have an affinity with all people, which compels them to become altruistic and philanthropic.

  10. In Paul’s travels among Roman cities, he attached himself to households and functioned as a household, philosophical advisor. The extended family and clients would come to declare allegiance to God and to be devoted to Jesus as their divine exemplar. Paul taught them about Jesus and persuaded them to practice methods of progressing in their moral condition to the ultimate goal. His letters follow the general pattern of explaining the rationale for what to think and then encouraged practical ways of thinking and acting.

  11. People today can practice this form of Christianity by establishing communities of friendship with an allegiance to God and devotion to Jesus and to individually commit to becoming more knowledgeable about how to live, to progressing in the moral life, and to practice self-examination; and collectively commit to providing guidance, encouragement, and admonishment to help each one achieve the life goal of Christ-likeness and the ultimate resurrection to godlikeness (theosis).

  12. Soul Share (soulshare.org) can function as an online social community of people who have come to these same conclusions about what it means to live as a Christian, who commit to live in this way, and who want to participate with others, either as a substitute for traditional church or as an adjunct to it.

-- Tim Seid, July 2, 2013

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