BETWEEN HOLY MEN AND COMMON PEOPLE

In his writings the apostle Paul refuses to draw distinctions between members of the Christian community according to the measure of the ‘holiness’ they possess. The exclusion of any leading caste in the community of a priestly or official kind extends to a rejection of any spiritual aristocracy within it as well. For a start, all genuine members of the community possess the Spirit. ‘Through one Spirit’ they were all introduced into it (1 Cor. 12:13); ‘in one Spirit’ they all have equal access to God (Eph. 2:18); ‘from one Spirit’ they all draw the same resources (1 Cor. 3:18); ‘by the (same) Spirit’ all are to direct their lives (Gal. 5:25). Since it is the same Spirit who dwells in them all, all share in the qualities of character that the Spirit produces (Gal. 5:22-23), and all participate in the gifts of ministry that the Spirit distributes (1 Cor. 12:4-11). All who belong to the Christian community, therefore, are fundamentally ‘spiritual’.

Paul’s use of the terms laos, people, and hagios, holy, confirms this. Apart from its occurrence in Old Testament quotations and in direct references to the Jewish nation (Rom. 11:1-2), laos refers only to Christians as a whole, as those upon whom the promises of God concerning the creation of a ‘people’ of His own have fallen (2 Cor. 6:6). Nowhere does the term refer to only part of the community, or in opposition to kleros, clergy. It was only in the third century that the words for clergy and layman came into Christian usage. Nor does any one member of the community, or group of members, possess a particular ‘holiness’ denied to others. Though, because of its Old Testament associations, Paul does sometimes use the plural of hagios with reference to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1), elsewhere all who are believers in a particular community are specifically referred to as ‘saints’. (1 Cor. 1:2) In so describing them, Paul does not mean they possess or have received some inherent personal quality which sets them apart from others. In Old Testament terms he simply refers to their having been ‘reserved’ for, ‘set aside’ by, or ‘dedicated’ to God. Since all members of the community share equally in this, there cannot be different grades of holiness within the community.

Paul therefore has no place in his view of the Christian community for traditional distinctions between its members. He has a different and less elitist understanding of ‘spirituality’ and ‘holiness’. So alien is the later Christian notion of ‘the saint’ to his thinking, that reference to the apostle now almost uniformly as Saint Paul is ironical indeed. What do you think?

Thoughts from reading “Participation and Its Responsibilities” by Robert Banks (Paul’s Idea of Community). — via Ken Darnell

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