This post is the second post in a series on the “Gnostic Paul”– that is, Paul perceived by certain Gnostic thinkers– on Galatians. For Part 1, click here. For the next part, Part 3, click here.

The Gnostic Paul by Elaine Pagels

In last week’s post, we talked about the version of Paul presented by Elaine Pagels, in her book The Gnostic Paul. In her book, she reconstructs– using a combination of academic research and original texts– how “gnostic” thinkers (even though that word is loaded) may have perceived the apostle Paul. We’ll refer to this Paul as the “Gnostic Paul”, to indicate that this is not intended to be a discussion of historicity, but rather how certain early Christians perceived Paul.

Last time, we concluded with the tension faced by the Gnostic Paul in Galatians: the “psychic” Christians, led by apostles such as James, Peter, and John were in conflict with the pneumatic apostle Paul and others such as Barnabas. The psychic Christians– those operating at the level of psyche, at the level of the Demiurge– ended up giving Paul and Barnabas permission to preach to the pneumatic (spirit-filled and serving the true God), though asked them not to preach this to psychic Christians.

Paul and Barnabas agreed, and Galatians 2 records them being willing to act as psychic Christians when around other psychics to keep the peace. However, Peter then acts hypocritically– he starts violating the cease-fire. In this post, we’re going to explore more about what the Gnostic Paul thought Peter was doing, and his argument for why it’s a problem; the topic of “justification” is at the root of the issue!

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Revisiting Peter’s Hypocrisy

In last week’s post, we dove into Paul’s allegations against Peter, but let’s dive back in to make sure we understand the context. In Galatians 2, the Gnostic Paul writes:

  1. “Cephas” (Peter) came to Antioch. Why is this an issue? Because, as Pagels argues Antioch is Gentile territory. It wasn’t a psychic/Jewish area, but one that was characterized by its pneumatic Christians who wouldn’t have the same kind of food-based scruples that psychic Christians had.
  2. The core issue– and this merits an entire post, I’m not going to be able to cover everything here– is that those who still serve the Demiurge still follow its laws, the “law of Moses”, and therefore would do things like keep kosher.
  3. Peter stood “self-condemned”, meaning that he was acting hypocritically. His own words condemned his actions.Preaching Statue
  4. Why was he self-condemned? Because Peter “used to eat with the Gentiles” (i.e. the pneumatics), but after folks from James’ camp– the psychics– showed up, Peter stopped sitting with the pneumatics out of fear of reprisal. Others ended up splitting with him.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Let’s break that down a bit:

Pneumatic Justification in Jesus Christ

The Gnostic Paul’s charge, in Galatians 2, is getting at the core psychic vs. pneumatic distinction:

I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Remember that, to make sense of this, replace “Gentile” with “pneumatic” and “Jew” with “psychic. The Gnostic Paul is alleging that Peter is a psychic Christian who, when with pneumatics, acts like he’s no longer under the yoke of the Demiurge. However, when pneumatic Christians are spending time with psychic Christians, they’re expected to act like psychic Christians. Paul notes that this is unfair?

The Gnostic Paul goes on to explain how justification ties into this:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 

Through his faith in Jesus Christ, Paul– who was once a psychic– is now free. Paul notes that his justification is through “faith in Christ” (i.e. pneumatic faith) and not by the “works of the law” (i.e. the law of Moses, the psychic law of the Demiurge). After all, no one is really justified psychically; if so, why would we need Christ? Wouldn’t the Demiurge have been sufficient?

But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor.

This is a critical verse for the Gnostic Paul, and provides major insight into the gnostic understanding of Justification in Galatians. He sees pneumatic Christians as having received justification by putting their faith in Christ rather than in the Demiurge’s law, which had previously condemned them as sinners. However, if, as a pneumatic Christian, Paul were to “build up the very things that I once tore down”– that is, the law of Moses– he would demonstrate that he is a transgressor and would be putting Christ into beneath the Demiurge!Laws

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Justification comes, according the the Gnostic Paul in Galatians, by dying to the law of Moses– ceasing to live as a psychic– and living for the true God. The psychic parts of him, bound to service to the Demiurge, have been crucified with Christ, and now he lives pneumatically through faith in Christ rather than in service as the psychics do.

I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Grace plays a critical role here. Good works and moral righteousness are the domain of the Demiurge; if one were to take responsibility for living a good life, one would be in servitude to the law of Moses. If pneumatic justification were to come from the Demiurge, why would Christ have needed to have come and died? We already have plenty of texts, guidance, and infrastructure regarding the Demiurge!

Frankly, Paul is not amused. the Gnostic Paul goes on to rebuke them further in the first paragraph of Galatians 3:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing?—if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?

For gnostic thinkers, this got straight at the heart of the issue. The Gnostic Paul argues that these early Christians received the Holy Spirit and became pneumatic not through works (i.e. obedience to the laws of Moses and the Demiurge), but through believing in Christ. For Paul, starting as a pneumatic Christian but becoming psychic is absurd. God doesn’t supply the spirit, the Gnostic Paul argues, through works of the law, but through pneumatic belief!

Justification From the Demiurge

In order to understand justification in Galatians 3, the Gnostic Paul goes on to talk about Abraham. And Abraham is a complicated figure. Okay, not really, but he’s perceived so differently in this context that wrapping one’s head around Abraham can be tough.

Just as Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.

Okay, you may think you know who Abraham refers to, but there’s a decent chance that, for the Gnostic Paul, you’re wrong. In Galatians, this “Abraham” signifies the Demiurge, and the “descendants of Abraham” are psychic Christians.

And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.

Praying HandsPsychics are blessed by the Demiurge– essentially, a second-hand blessing. However, pneumatics are blessed directly from God, the same as the Demiurge was. That’s what it means that “those who believe” (pneumatics) “are blessed with Abraham” (the Demiurge) “who believed” (as the Demiurge itself is pneumatic).

So, some people argue that all gnostics thought that the Demiurge was evil. Here, however, we see passage used by some gnostic thinkers such as Heracleon to argue that the Demiurge was not evil. Pagels argues that, in this passage of Galatians, we have the Gnostic Paul arguing that the Demiurge was blessed by God.

Inheritance from Christ or the Demiurge

Let’s consider what this means in the context of being an heir:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

So, then, prior to Christ, only the Demiurge was pneumatic; Christ’s sacrifice allowed us to receive the “blessing of Abraham” and become pneumatic, removed from the yoke of the Demiurge. This is echoed further in Galatians 3:

For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.

Door LockInheritance from the Demiurge– the inheritance of the psychics– is not from the promise of the Spirit. God granted the pneumatic blessing to the Demiurge (“to Abraham”) through the promise, but the Gnostic Paul is arguing that the promise doesn’t trickle down to the psychics who serve the Demiurge. The Gnostic Paul reinforces this:

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ.

Two received the promise of the Spirit: Abraham (i.e. the Demiurge) and Christ. The primary difference, as we’ve outlined above, being that Abraham did not create a way for others to be brought into the pneumatic gift, whereas Christ did.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Before Christ came to reveal pneumatic faith to humans, we were “imprisoned and guarded” by the Demiurge, who served as our disciplinarian. Now, however, we are freely able to accept the pneumatic gifts and can be justified by them!

The Two Sonships

This sets up the climactic conclusion of Galatians 3:

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Those who remain bound by the rules and customs of the Demiurge see a need to impose discipline and rules– the slave vs. the free, the Jew (or psychic) vs. the Greek (or pneumatic), the male vs. female

But, Paul points out, if you are pneumatic (i.e. “baptized into Christ” and have “clothed yourself with Christ”), none of these categories need apply to you any longer. Your identity is pneumatic and not constrained by racial or social distinctions.

What about the psychics?

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

In Part 3 of this series on the Gnostic Paul on Galatians and justification, we’ll explore the concept of both Gnostic atonement theory and inheritance further as we dive into Galatians 3 and 4. Click here for Part 3!

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