CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In his chapter in The Empty Tomb, Carrier argues that Paul’s letters reflect “Orphic conceptions of the body as a residence, jailhouse, or tomb” from which the soul must escape to recognize its true potential. TET, page 142-43. This is representative of the classic pagan views of the time, which emphasized the evil of the material world and the edification of the spiritual. I plan to engage this issue more fully later, but in this post I focus on a particular Pauline passage that Carrier offers as a supporting evidence:

The idea of the body as a ‘container’ for the soul also matches Orphic theology and is found in pagan and Jewish thought. So Paul also treats the body as a container for the spirit in 2 Corinthians 4:7, where we are described as the ostrakina skeue, the very ‘clay pots’ that, once used, must be destroyed.

As is usually the case, Carrier fails to quote the verse he relies on. Here is the relevant passage:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

2 Cor. 5-10.

First, Carrier is in error when he states that the body is depicted as merely a container for the spirit. Paul is saying something very different. Paul is not talking about our spirits or any other part of ourselves being imprisoned within the body. Rather, Paul is referring to the “Light of the knowledge of the glory of God” which we can present to the world despite the limitations of our own nature. James Dunn translates the relevant part in this helpful way: “We have this treasure in clay jars, in order that the extraordinary quality of the power might be seen to be of God and not from ourselves.” The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 482. The meaning Carrier claims for his theory simply is not present in the relevant text. The “treasure” is not the human spirit or soul, but is the knowledge of God which shines out from us despite our limitations.

Second, it may be unnecessary to look for any particular literary or theological influence – much less a pagan one – to account for Paul’s analogy of the earthen vessels because “[s]cholars note that Corinth produced many cheap, frail pottery lamps.” Craig Keener, 1-2 Corinthians, page 174. So “[t]his may be a reference to the cheap pottery lamps made in Corinth and used for walking about at night. Precisely because of their thinness, these vessels let out more light.” Ben Witherington, Conflict & Community in Corinth, pages 386-87. Paul, having stayed in Corinth for a while, appears to have drawn on a mundane part of every-day life in Corinth to use as an analogy for his point about God using humans despite their frailty to reveal Himself.

Finally, even if some other explanation is needed, Carrier never explains why a reference to humans as clay pots would demand a pagan literary or religious influence when plenty of pre-existing Jewish ones were readily available to Paul. Paul was a Jew. He says he was a Pharisee. He draws from the Old Testament time and time again, as Carrier himself recognizes. So why, when the Old Testament is full of references to God as a potter and humans the clay with which he works, does Carrier strive for a pagan origin for this analogy? I would think the following verses, which are not exhaustive, would be a good place to start: Isa. 29:16; 41:25; 45:9; 64:8; Jer: 18:2-6. Moreover, later Jewish authors emphasized that Torah resides "only in scholars who are like the humblest vessels (Sipre Deut. 48.2.7), and that God prefers broken vessels because he is nearest the broken (Presiq. R. Kah. 24:5 cf. 66:2)." Keener, op. cit., page 174.

7 comments:

'Finally, even if some other explanation is needed, Carrier never explains why a reference to humans as clay pots would demand a pagan literary or religious influence when plenty of pre-existing Jewish ones were readily available to Paul.'

Of course, contrary to the claims on this site, Carrier does exactly that and gives the references to the Bible where the expression 'ostrakina skeue' is used, to describe the clay pots which had to be destroyed after use (presumably the point of Paul's analogy to our bodies as clay pots, regarding them asclay pots which must be destroyed after use).

But who expects accurate, or even charitable interpretation, from the Christian Cadre?

Steven,

I was clear about my point, which was that Carrier never explained why the use of clay pots as an example demands a pagan literary or religious influence. His whole point here is that Paul is demonstrating "Orphic conceptions of the body as a residence, jailhouse, or tomb." But Paul was not referring to the human body as a container for the spirit or soul in 2 Cor. 4:7, but as a frail vehicle for shining the light of God's knowledge. And since the notion of human beings as such clay vessels created by God is well established in Jewish thought unrelated to "Orphic conceptions," how do you think you are helping make Carrier's point?

Furthermore, Paul's point here is not that these vessels "had to be destroyed." In fact, he says just the opposite: "we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed." The emphasis is decidely not about these vessels having to be destroyed.

So if you want to defend Carrier's point rather than making erroneous attacks on me, please explain how 2 Cor. 4:7 supports an "Orphic conception of the body as a residence, jailhouse, or tomb" when it doesn't even refer to humans as vessels for their own souls or spirits and there is ample Jewish precedent for how the term is used?

'The idea of the body as a ‘container’ for the soul also matches Orphic theology and is found in pagan and Jewish thought.'

'Matches' does not mean 'derived from', or 'demonstrating'. It just means it matches Oprhic conceptions of the body as a residence.

This is not controversial. 2 Corinthians 5:1
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

In one letter, Paul describes our bodies as a residence. In another, he describes our bodies as a container?

And this doesn't match ideas of our body as a residence or a container?

Are you really going to say in public that Paul did not think the body of Christians contained a spirit?

And, of course, the containers were destroyed 'after use', as Carrier said, and as you ignore. No during use. Paul doesn't say they were destroyed *during use*. (I wonder why Paul never thought of Christians as being killed for preaching?!?)

2 Corinthians 4
10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Paul writes about how we carry life around in our containers.

It is desperate to say that this has no parallels to a view of our bodies as containers for something which lives for ever.

Steven,

So you have abandoned any effort to defend Carrier's reference to 2 Cor. 4:7 in support of his theory?

And Carrier's point is not that they just happen to be similar by coincidence, he is saying Paul derived his views on this issue from Orphic theology. Note his claim that Paul "fused" Orphic theology with Jewish beliefs. So you are desperately misleading and misconstruing to try and salvage something.

And, of course, the containers were destroyed 'after use', as Carrier said, and as you ignore. No during use. Paul doesn't say they were destroyed *during use*. (I wonder why Paul never thought of Christians as being killed for preaching?!?)

Actually, you are ignoring the very text itself, in which Paul uses the analogy and notes that they were "not destroyed." Did Paul believe that ultimately people would die at some point? Sure, but that has nothing to do with, and indeed contradicts, how he was using the analogy in 2 Cor. 4:7. In other words, Paul did not use the analogy in any way as you and Carrier assert (no human soul or spirit within a vessel, no destruction of that vessel).

And since I said I'd deal with the rest of Carrier's argument later, your reference to 2 Cor. 5:1 is premature. Since it does nothing to help Carrier's erroneous appeal to 2 Cor. 4:7, it does nothing to support your arguments here or attack on my post. Please come back when I point out how 2 Cor. 5:1ff demonstrates Paul's beliefs in an interim state (contra Carrier) and further supports Paul's belief that the body would be transformed, in this case "further clothed," rather than simply abandoned.

Paul writes about how we carry life around in our containers.

It is desperate to say that this has no parallels to a view of our bodies as containers for something which lives for ever.


Actually, it says that through us the life of Jesus may be revealed. This is specifying the knowledge of God that we can demonstrate despite our limitations. It certainly is not a reference to the body being a vessel for our souls or spirits, which is the Orphic conception, right? There isn't even a reference to the Holy Spirit.

The desperation here is entirely yours Carr. It is ironic how some people who react so strongly to the doctrine of inerrancy strive so mightily to justify such obvious atheist errors.

'he is saying Paul derived his views on this issue from Orphic theology. '


Carrier already gave similar examples of theology , showing that those ideas were already in circulation in Judaism.

Carrier says the use of the word 'skenos' was unique to Orphic conceptions.

Calling the body a tent, implies that there is something inside the tent, does it not?


Layman still can't admit that Paul described our bodies as a container, just like Carrier said, and that that all helps to show that Paul thought our bodies contained a spirit. It is beyond me why Layman wants to deny that Paul described our bodies as containers, and that Paul also thought Christian bodies contained a spirit. Is it really absurd to draw the conclusion that our containers contained a spirit? Is it even disputed , that Paul believed that? (Paul did not think of us as having an immaterial soul, he preferred to say that we have a spirit inside us)

Still, Layman has to throw something out.

Fair enough, that 2 Corinthians 4 does not say so directly, but it describes our body as a container, and the very next chapter by Paul says that we are inside something. There is a connection between the two thoughts, even if Layman pounces on the fact that 2 Corinthians 4 does not list everything that the container contains.

Nitpicking of Layman I would call it, but technically, 2 Corinthians 4 says we are a container, but only 2 Corinthians 5 says that we are inside a 'tent'. So score one for Layman.


Inrriguing that Layman claims that the life of Jesus was not something material in Paul's view, but was something immaterial that could be contained in us.


Wright, in The Resurrection of the Son of God, page 362-363, says the passage is partly about that part of our humanity which will decay, die and rot. I guess he also thinks that these 'earthen pots' will be destroyed.


I look forward to Layman demonstrating that when you rise from the dead in a glorious transformed body, a la Jesus, you are in an intermediate state will then be further transformed. It is a busy life, being dead, isn't it?

Carrier already gave similar examples of theology , showing that those ideas were already in circulation in Judaism.

Carrier says the use of the word 'skenos' was unique to Orphic conceptions.

Calling the body a tent, implies that there is something inside the tent, does it not?


2 Cor. 4:7 does not talk about a tent. It talks about earthern vessels (clay pots). You are talking about different passages.

Layman still can't admit that Paul described our bodies as a container, just like Carrier said, and that that all helps to show that Paul thought our bodies contained a spirit.

I did admit it. 2 Cor. 4:7 clearly uses an analogy of a container to describe human bodies. That is not the point in dispute. Carrier claims that the container in 2 Cor. 4:7 contains "the spirit," whereas 4:7 says nothing of the kind. 4:7 is clear that what is in the container is knowledge of God, specifically of the life of Jesus.

It is beyond me why Layman wants to deny that Paul described our bodies as containers, and that Paul also thought Christian bodies contained a spirit.

I think Paul's view was more nuanced. Bodies are not just containers, they are part of who we are. The goal is not to escape bodies, but to get better ones from God. Bodily form is inherent to who we are. The goal is not to liberate it, but to get it a better material habitation.

Fair enough, that 2 Corinthians 4 does not say so directly, but it describes our body as a container, and the very next chapter by Paul says that we are inside something. There is a connection between the two thoughts, even if Layman pounces on the fact that 2 Corinthians 4 does not list everything that the container contains.

If the clay pot analogy was meant to extend to cover everything you claim, why does Paul shift analogies in 2 Cor. 5 and start talking about tents? The chapter imposition here was well placed.

Nitpicking of Layman I would call it, but technically, 2 Corinthians 4 says we are a container, but only 2 Corinthians 5 says that we are inside a 'tent'. So score one for Layman.

Thanks. But the real point is more substantially. Carrier says 2 Cor. 4:7 fits in his Orphic argument because it talks about clay pots containing the spirit. But it says nothing of the sort. It clearly is talking about knowledge, not the human spirit or soul or even "inner man." Moreover, there is no reason at all to see this as somehow being a result of pagan influence (as Carrier clearly claims). It likely was just something Paul remembered from his stay in Corinth, possibly influenced by the abundant early Jewish literature describing God as a potter forming humans from clay. You've wasted all of our time talking about other passages when it is clear that Carrier misused this passage in his eagerness to justify his argument.

Inrriguing that Layman claims that the life of Jesus was not something material in Paul's view, but was something immaterial that could be contained in us.

Not what I said at all. I said that what Paul is referring to as being in the earthern vessel is knowledge. In this case, knowledge about Jesus that can shine forth to the world despite our human limitations.

I look forward to Layman demonstrating that when you rise from the dead in a glorious transformed body, a la Jesus, you are in an intermediate state will then be further transformed. It is a busy life, being dead, isn't it?

Since it is undisputed that many ancient Jews believed both in the resurrection and an intermediate state, why do you write about this as if its bizzare to attribute such a belief to an ancient Jew? I could be wrong on the specifics about Paul's beliefs, but there is nothing initially unlikely about a self-identified Pharisee accepting such a view.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.