Paul's bizarre, pre-scientific worldview

This blog post showed up on my feed today:

Obviously, we know in the modern day that planets are not celestial demons who emit real influence on the earthly sphere. Some of these ideas also sound very pantheistic, and some contradict the goodness of creation found in Genesis 1. I was wondering if any of the Bible buffs here could respond to the claims made by the post, since they cut right to the heart of Christian doctrine. Are they compatible with orthodox Christian Inspiration? Did God allow Paul to speak in the language of his day? If so, isn’t an enormous amount of Christian teaching based on bad science?

Years ago I was on a National Center for Science Education private listserv. I was one of the token Christians on the list. I was there because I was fighting against YEC, but not because I agreed with anything else they believed. I would say that 99% of the list members were atheist. I am constantly struck by the extreme similarities of the view of the Bible here on Biologos with those expressed on that listserv. All those atheists over there would feel quite comfortable here, and like when I was on that listserv, I feel about as uncomfortable here as I did there.

It seems everyone gets to pick on the Bible here and have great fun tearing it apart. Such is the article Reggie posted. I will give my view on the 3rd heaven that is picked on by the article’s author. The article says:

We can conclude from 2 Cor. 12:2, in which Paul describes his vision of Paradise located in the “third heaven”, that the apostle holds to a Platonic cosmology with multiple heavens (Wright, p. 133)

Is it so hard to make this statement compatible with modern cosmology? I don’t think so but no one here even tries to make things compatible. His statement could be viewed today as first heaven air, 2nd heaven space, and 3rd Heaven God’s domain. sheesh, this takes such effort to think of that. lol

[content removed by moderator]

Reggie, if interesting… I read this article and personally found it atrocious scholarship. I have trouble with perspectives that are uncharitable and set out to portray their case in the worst possible light. They are taking Paul’s words and twisting them ridiculously to make it sound like he had a bizarre worldview. Take one example…

Paul understood the crucifixion as a cosmic event, whatever terrestrial story may have underlain it. In 1 Cor. 2:8, he explains that the Lord of glory was crucified by “the archons of this age ( aeon )” out of ignorance because they did not understand the secret wisdom ( sophia ) of God (Lewis, pp. 55ff).

Um, ok. And I believe that too. So does pretty much every Christian. But they want to phrase it to make it sound bizarre. Yes, Crucifixion happened in one time and place and absolutely has cosmic implications. And yes, he was crucified by Roman magistrates who didn’t know the secret plan of God. I believe every bit of that. Is this somehow noteworthy? But they are going to use the craziest sounding words and interpretation to make the most innocent or innocuous statement sound like he was peddling some radical view. One more example…

Van Kooten notes that ‘throne’ was also a technical term in astronomy for the powers exerted by the planets (Van Kooten, p. 122).¹⁵ All these terms together stand for the entire cosmos.

This is either borderline academically dishonest or just plain stupid. “Throne”, surprisingly enough, is also the name of a kind of chair that sometimes kings and emperors would sit on (who knew?) …let’s ignore the context where Paul was talking about rulers and authorities… surely “throne” here must mean “planets”!!

I think Paul would be very, very surprised to discover that he believed such things. I read more but their own arguments just got more and more bizarre.

This is one of those exercises where scholars went to the Bible not to glean from it an honest understanding of what said author believed, but they knew what they wanted to find and used every linguistic manipulation to put into Paul’s mouth all sorts of odd archaic sounding beliefs.

I can’t roll my eyes enough to convey how I think of this argument… :roll_eyes:

This not to say there isn’t a place for legitimate questions of what Paul’s view of the cosmos was, and how it influenced his writings… but the way this article approaches things is just ridiculously over the top. Almost something out of Babylon Bee


I read a bit more and you about had to pull my jaw off the floor with this howler…

Christ is the visual representation of the invisible God (1:15), which both Dunn and Van Kooten take to mean that Christ himself is the body of the cosmos.

I can think of only one satisfactory reply to this…


I think some points he makes are valid, such as with the elements of the cosmos enslaving people, until the cosmos was in a sense crucified (perhaps because the son upholds creation and binds it together) and made anew so people could be redeemed. This answers some of the problems I raised in another thread. It answers why God would bother incarnating if he saves all who call on him (Psalm 145:17-18). Because those who do not call on him were enslaved by the cosmic powers.

You might like this video series by NT Wright and Michael Bird

I just bought it and am looking forward to it for our Sunday School. Wright’s reputation is as one of the top NT scholars, and Bird is typically brilliant from what I have read…as well as funny. He helped lead the response to Ehrman with “How God Became Jesus” (another I hope to listen to)

1 Like

There may be some gleanings you can pull out of this, but I would caution that the overall endeavor is a disaster. It is a very bizarre attempt to take some of Paul’s language, over-literalize, rip it from its context and try to make it fit into a totally unwarranted, unintended, and foreign context.

It has largely the same effect as if I took the language of revelation (“with your blood you purchased men for God”) and wrote a treatise on the Bible’s bizarre theories of economics where blood is used as currency to purchase men as commodities on a divine slave market.

1 Like

It depends on what you mean by “Orthodox Christian Inspiration.”

When a person is inspired to do something, that is not a guarantee of perfect execution.