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Sunday, March 12, 2017



Can a Christian have a demon?” If one were to make a list of “hot” religious questions of our day, would this one be among them? It would depend on whom one asked. Most theologians of whatever stripe would likely respond to this query with blank faces. Even among Evangelicals the relevant demons today are those “principalities and powers” of social evil that one reads about in Sojourners. Yet among a sizable percentage of those Christians involved with the Charismatic movement, the question takes on vital (shall we even say existential?) relevance. We refer of course to the “Deliverance Ministry" and its leaders including Don Basham, Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, and Pat Brooks. These people are quite certain that Christians may be “demonized" (not “possessed,” a term avoided for apologetical reasons), and that many in fact are. Worse yet, they usually don’t suspect it. Worst of all, most don’t want to hear about it! The present discussion will raise three points in connection with this “Deliverance Ministry.” First, what scriptural basis might be claimed for Deliverance? Second, does the repudiation by most Evangelicals and Pentecostals of Deliverance itself have theological significance? Third, what is the psychological utility of such an apparently unpleasant doctrine as Deliverance?
Bible and Belial

Turning first to the scriptural question, we should try to locate just where the Deliverance Ministry becomes exegetically controversial. There is almost universal agreement between Evangelicals that in New Testament times, as represented by the gospel accounts, many unfortunate individuals were demon­-possessed. Claiming to believe the biblical accounts and to accept the world­ view implied therein, most Evangelicals and Pentecostals would agree that such demon affliction can still occur today. But can a regenerate Christian fall prey to such bondage? Here is the point of conflict.
Most would answer in the negative, while the Deliverance advocates, a minority, would respond affirma­tively. Let us note at the outset that the evidence is not completely clear. This is so because demon-possession is treated almost exclusively in descriptive passages of the gospels. The stories of Jesus' victories over Beelzebul and his hordes are told primarily to glorify Jesus. They denote the coming of the Kingdom (Reginald Fuller) and the victory of Jesus over the demonic Powers (Ernst Käsemann). But what do they have to say about regenerate believers, partakers of the Spirit after Pentecost? This remains unclear since it is not the didactic concern of the evangelists. So the question must be dealt with by inference.
On the one hand, most Evangelicals and Pentecostals point out with obvious force that if the coming of the Kingdom denotes freedom from demons, then the "sons of the Kingdom" must have such freedom as their birthright. And surely demon-spirits cannot reside in those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Would the Holy Spirit share his temple (1 Cor. 6: 19) with devils? Surely not! The issue thus seems settled.
That is, it seems to be settled if we look no further. And in fact one senses in much anti-Deliverance literature that its writers have no intention of looking further. If they did, they might find that the Deliverance ministers do indeed have an exegetical leg to stand on. Deliverance advocates are quick to point out that much of the apparent force of their opponents' objec­tion comes from their characterization of demon-affliction as "possession." In fact no such inference is necessary. The Greek text yields only "demonization." As trivial as the distinction might at first sound, it is important because the anti-Deliverance criticism depends on the spatial imagery: the same body cannot contain demons and the Spirit at the same time. In all fairness, though, it should be noted that demons are often commanded "Come out of him" (e.g., Mk 1:25), implying indwelling.
But all this is perhaps to make too much of imagery. After all, what Christian really thinks Christ's living in one's heart means that he is located in the cardial cavity? The really important question is that of the Christian's "kingdom" right to liberty from demons. And here it is hard to deny that Deliverance ministers have both New Testament and Evangelical theological categories on their side. As Bultmann and others have described it, there is an "indicative-imperative" dialectic in the New Testament, at least in the Pauline literature. The Christian is exhorted to live in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), yet told that he already lives by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). How are the imperative (what the believer must do) and the indicative (what is already true of him) related?
Paradoxically, the Christian must "become what he is." As Bultmann summarizes Paul: "The way the believer becomes what he already is consists... in the constant appropriation of grace by faith" (Theology of the New Testament, p. 332; c£ also his The Old Man and the New Man). This schema is recapitulated in traditional Evangelical theology. Here we find the distinction between "positional" and "experiential" truth. The idea is that certain things are true of a believer by virtue of his position "in Christ," yet the extent to which his experience, his day-to-day life, matches up to the heavenly prototype depends on his success in "appropriating" the positional riches of Christ. For discussions of this distinction see, e. g., Lewis Sperry Chafer's Salvation or Miles J. Stanford's The Green Letters. Certainly Pentecostals ought to be more at home than anyone else with this frame of reference, from their doctrine of the Baptism of the Spirit as subsequent to regeneration. The fullness of the Spirit is the birthright of every believer, yet it will not be experienced until consciously appropriated.
Now what does this have to do with the minority voice among Pentecostals, the Deliverance Ministry? Quite simply, the latter see complete deliverance from demons in the same terms. Though every Christian is entitled to it, this liberation must be consciously claimed. And this may occur at any point after regeneration. Thus, at least temporarily, a believer may find himself demonized until he claims his "deliverance" via exorcism. Seen this way, it is hard to deny a legitimate theological pedigree to the Deliverance Ministry. Advocates may certainly point to precedents both in the New Testament and in Evangelical theology.
Beelzebul and Bultmann

So far our discussion has attempted to mediate the Deliverance debate in terms of the exegetical and doctrinal terms usually employed, but there is another, far more important, theological question implied in all this. This is the question preliminary to the much-debated problem of "demythologizing," the translation of the self-understanding of the New Testament Christians into modern, non-supernatural categories. The position is mostly clearly stated by its chief advocate, Rudolf Bultmann. In his famous essay "New Testament and Mythology," Bultmann claimed that "modern man" does not in fact hold to the worldview of the New Testament, with its supernatural entities and inter­ventions. Evangelical critics have easily been able to reject such an allegation. After all, do they not both live in the twntieth century and accept supernaturalism? Yet this was not quite Bultmann's point. He meant that no one today really lives as though he believed in the miraculous world of the New Testament, and actions speak louder than words. What we are going to argue is that the Deliverance Ministry forms the exception that proves the rule, that at least on the important matter of demons most Evangelicals simply do not share the New Testament worldview.
Let us return momentarily to the exegetical question. Just what is the New Testament view of demon activity? What does demon-possession (or "demonization") mean? This eerie condition might manifest itself in the forms of frenzy (Mk. 9:18), supernatural knowledge (Mk. 1:24), superhuman strength (Lk. 8:29), common illness or handicap (Lk.13:11), or various combinations of these symptoms. Most "Bible-believers" would claim to believe that nothing has changed since New Testament days. Yet there is in fact a curious limitation in their picture of demon activity. While the gospels regard demon-activity as a common cause of serious illness, as most prescientific societies do (see Victor Turner, The Drums of Affliction; I. M. Lewis, Ecstatic Religion), modern Evangelicals by and large do not. Instead, they picture demonization almost exclusively in terms of fits of blasphemous frenzy a la The Exorcist. And instead of the commonplace occurrence of demon affliction we see in the gospels, most Evangelicals expect it to occur only among foreign pagans or occultists in California. In the synoptic gospels it seems like Jesus is thronged by demoniac sufferers on every street corner. But when a middleclass suburban Baptist gets arthritis or pneumonia, will it even occur to him or her to call in an exorcist?
When was the last time you offered your condolences to a neighbor whose son is demon-possessed? Demons are just not encountered in everyday life, contrary to what one would expect if the New Testament worldview still held good. With Deliverance believers, on the other hand, the picture is altogether different. As is well known, they attribute almost any serious problem or sick­ness at least potentially to demons. (See the amazing list of demon-symptoms in the Hammond’s Pigs in the Parlor.) The remedy is exorcism, even self­-exorcism. Once again, the reality of the demonic is encountered in everyday life, in the form of sickness, not just frenzy, and here at home, not just in far­ flung mission-fields. Will the real upholder of the New Testament worldview please stand up?
The seriousness of the question thus posed should not be missed. Evan­gelicals and mainstream Pentecostals do not have much trouble in recognizing fanaticism when they see it in the Deliverance Ministry. Yet it seems to be the latter who adhere more closely to the biblical world-picture! And of course this case is only one of several degrees on a scale. Mainstream Evangelicals have traditionally written off all Pentecostals and Charismatics as fanatics because of their practice of glossolalia and prophecy. The strained rationalizations of the Dispensationalists could not mask the fact that it was Pentecostalism that was closer to the New Testament picture.
Taking it a step further, Liberals have shaken their heads in bemusement (or amusement) at the Evangelical-fundamentalist belief in “the Rapture," the miracles of Christ, etc. All of this they regarded as superstition. In all these cases, the criterion seems to be the same. Basically each group stops short of the next because of its greater or lesser grip on everyday reality as most people experience it. To venture very far away from "normal" reality seems "fanatical,” and some venture farther than others. The difference between the Deliverance Ministry and mainstream Evangelicalism-Pentecostalism raises (or should raise) Bultmann's question with acute clarity. Even to Pentecostal believers, Bultmann's charge has force: do you really believe in the New Testament picture of reality? And if you want to be consistent, which path will you follow--Deliverance, or demythologizing? Finally, let us consider the Deliverance controversy in a more psycho­logical light.
The Firewall

From this perspective, we will ask why anyone would want to embrace a notion so repulsive as that one may himself be demon-possessed and in need of exorcism. Our answer seems to lie in what we would honestly have to call a tradition of elitism within Pentecostalism. In both the Holiness and Pentecostal Revivals, possessors of the "Second Blessing" faced, and notoriously often succumbed to, the temptation of patronizing outsiders as second-class Christians. Among Pentecostals, the gift of tongues might function as much as a badge of elitism as an evidence of the Spirit. This division has recently been repeated in mainline Protestant congregations with the spread of the neo-Pentecostal, or Charismatic, movement. Militant Charismatic prayer cells regard other parishioners as not yet having arrived at the group's own spiritual plane. Now, as if not satisfied with such an elite status, some Charismatics have found a new shibboleth which makes them the elite among the elite. This shibboleth is the ministry of deliverance from demons.
Deliverance advocates feel that they are privy to the devil's best kept secret. Most Christians are being victimized by Satan but are prevented by their doctrinal views from recognizing it! The faithful few have found out the secret and try to warn their fellow Charismatics. But few will listen; thus deliverance advocates become a persecuted, elitist minority. This is very satisfying for some people who seem to thrive on this sort of messianic self­ conception.
The factor of guilt also plays a major role here. As mentioned above, the Deliverance Ministry is only the latest develop­ment in the American Holiness-Pentecostal tradition. This tradition has been one of perfectionism. It has been believed that once one has experienced "entire sanctification" or "the Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” or both, one is responsible for, and capable of, maintaining a largely sin-free life and attitude. To eradicate sinful actions and attitudes, one need only remain faithful in devotional practices and "claim the victory" by appropriating God's power over spiritual and moral problems. The Deliverance Ministry is able to admit that even after the Spirit-filled believer has done all this, some problems and sins seem to remain.
The attribution of particularly stubborn problems to demons allows one to avoid frustration and guilt. To err is no longer human, it is demonic. If the believer has been sanctified, what other culprit is left? If on the other hand he has "backslidden" from his sanctified state, the believer may readily enough admit his guilt and repent. But if he has tried his best without results to deal with a "besetting sin," the appeal to demons can at least get him off the moral hook.
The same dichotomy occurs in the specific case of sickness. Here, too, Pentecostals have been perfectionists. That is, they have often claimed that it is never God’s will for the believer to be ill, but that the believer can "claim his healing" which, like salvation itself, was automatically provided for at Calvary. The healing is readily available if only one’s faith is strong enough. As one might well imagine, this last catch has saved face for the Pentecostal claims only at the cost of great guilt for those seekers who came away without being healed. They had thought their faith was sufficient, but it must not have been after all! Since they weren't healed, what other possibility is there? Once again, Deliverance advocates (and here many other Charismatics as well) step forward with an alternative to guilt. They cheerfully announce that the seeker really was healed! The only reason this is not apparent is that Satan is counterfeiting the symptoms, in order to make the believer doubt! This is a rationalization widely used in Charismatic circles. In short, the devil has again been used as an alternative to human failure, so that one may resort to exorcism instead of feeling guilty. Which was it: a lack of faith, or Satan­ically-counterfeited symptoms? Probably only conscience will tell.
The Deliverance Ministry has been able to supply a shrewd theological device for escaping the frustration that inevitably accompanies perfectionism. Yet how long can the device work? What is the believer to conclude if the demonic sin or problem, or the Satanically "counterfeited" symptoms do not leave when rebuked in Jesus' name? At this point, one suspects, the whole system may backfire. Mustn't the would-be exorcist (or self-exorcist) conclude that his faith in the power of the name, or blood, of Jesus wasn't strong enough? Or maybe even that such a lack of faith is itself demonically-produced?
Believe it or not, something very much like this reasoning has already appeared in Deliverance literature, where Don Basham warns any skeptical reader that stubborn refusal to believe in the Deliverance Ministry is quite possibly caused by demons! Apparently, no Deliverance minister has yet attributed the failure of exorcism to demonic crippling of faith. This would indeed be a vicious circle. One is reminded of the gospel text (Mt. 12:43-45) wherein the expulsion of one demon only results in its return with seven others worse than itself.
In conclusion, our examination of the Deliverance Ministry reveals it to be more than the internecene squabble it is often taken to be. Instead it raises questions crucial to the integrity of Evangelical-Pentecostal religion. Do believers really adhere to the New Testament worldview, as they claim, or are they ready to admit with Liberals that New Testament supernaturalism must be modified? And what about the perfectionism so common to Pentecostal­ Charismatic spirituality? Are its promises realistic, or mustn't something be amiss if believers must fall back on a series of "fail-safe" maneuvers culminating in the Deliverance Ministry? In view of these questions, it seems that the Deliverance controversy is far more theologically important than is commonly supposed.

Robert M. Price : Punished in Paradise - An Exegetical Theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Punished in Paradise
An Exegetical Theory on 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Robert M. Price

Β Κορ. 12,1        Καυχᾶσθαι δὴ οὐ συμφέρει μοι· ἐλεύσομαι γὰρ εἰς ὀπτασίας καὶ ἀποκαλύψεις Κυρίου.
Β Κορ. 12,1               Να καυχηθώ δια τόσα και τόσα άλλα, που υπέστην και έπραξα δια το Ευαγγέλιον, δεν με συμφέρει από πνευματικής απόψεως. Θα προχωρήσω όμως εις οράματα και αποκαλύψεις, που έλαβα εκ μέρους του Κυρίου.
Β Κορ. 12,2        οἶδα ἄνθρωπον ἐν Χριστῷ πρὸ ἐτῶν δεκατεσσάρων· εἴτε ἐν σώματι οὐκ οἶδα, εἴτε ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματος οὐκ οἶδα, ὁ Θεὸς οἶδεν· ἁρπαγέντα τὸν τοιοῦτον ἕως τρίτου οὐρανοῦ.
Β Κορ. 12,2              Γνωρίζω ένα άνθρωπον, που εζούσε εν Χριστώ, και ο οποίος προ δεκατεσσάρων ετών-είτε ευρίσκετο στο σώμα του κατά την ώραν εκείνην δεν γνωρίζω· είτε ήτο εκτός του σώματος, δεν γνωρίζω, ο Θεός το γνωρίζει-είχεν αρπαγή και αναληφθ έως τον τρίτον ουρανόν.
Β Κορ. 12,3        καὶ οἶδα τὸν τοιοῦτον ἄνθρωπον· εἴτε ἐν σώματι εἴτε ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματος οὐκ οἶδα, ὁ Θεὸς οἶδεν·
Β Κορ. 12,3               Και γνωρίζω, ότι αυτός ο άνθρωπος-είτε με το σώμα του έξω από το σώμα του, δεν γνωρίζω, ο Θεός γνωρίζει-
Β Κορ. 12,4        ὅτι ἡρπάγη εἰς τὸν παράδεισον καὶ ἤκουσεν ἄῤῥητα ῥήματα, ἃ οὐκ ἐξὸν ἀνθρώπῳ λαλῆσαι.
Β Κορ. 12,4              ότι ηρπάγη έως στον παράδεισον και ήκουσε λόγους, τους οποίους ανθρωπίνη γλώσσα δεν ημπορεί να διατυπώση και τους οποίους δεν είναι επιτετραμμένον στον άνθρωπον να τους είπη και τους αποκαλύψη.
Β Κορ. 12,5        ὑπὲρ τοῦ τοιούτου καυχήσομαι, ὑπὲρ δὲ ἐμαυτοῦ οὐ καυχήσομαι εἰ μὴ ἐν ταῖς ἀσθενείαις μου.
Β Κορ. 12,5               Δια τον άνθρωπον αυτόν θα καυχηθώ, που τον ετίμησε τόσον πολύ ο Θεός. Δια τον ευατόν μου όμως δεν θα καυχηθώ, παρά μόνον δια τας ασθενείας μου, όπως αυταί αφάνησαν εις τας περιόδους των διωγμών και των κινδύνων.
Β Κορ. 12,6        ἐὰν γὰρ θελήσω καυχήσασθαι, οὐκ ἔσομαι ἄφρων· ἀλήθειαν γὰρ ἐρῶ· φείδομαι δὲ μή τις εἰς ἐμὲ λογίσηται ὑπὲρ ὃ βλέπει με ἢ ἀκούει τι ἐξ ἐμοῦ.
Β Κορ. 12,6              Εάν όμως θελήσω να καυχηθώ δια τους αγώνας μου και δια τα έργα, τα οποία με την βοήθειαν του Θεού υπέρ του Ευαγγελίου έκαμα, δεν θα είμαι άφρων, διότι θα πω την αλήθειαν. Διστάζω όμως και αποφεύγω να το πράξω, μήπως τυχόν κανείς σχηματίση δι' εμέ ιδέαν ανωτέραν, από ο,τι βλέπεις εις εμέ η απ' ο,τι ακούει από εμέ.
Β Κορ. 12,7        Καὶ τῇ ὑπερβολῇ τῶν ἀποκαλύψεων ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι, ἐδόθη μοι σκόλοψ τῇ σαρκί, ἄγγελος σατᾶν, ἵνα με κολαφίζῃ ἵνα μὴ ὑπεραίρωμαι.
Β Κορ. 12,7               Και ένεκα του πολλού πλήθους των αποκαλύψεων, δια να μη υπερηφανεύωμαι, επέτρεψεν ο Θεός και μου εδόθη σκληρό αγκάθι στο σώμα, άγγελος δηλαδή του σατανά, δια να με γρονθοκοπή και να με ταλαιπωρή, ανίατος ασθένεια δια να μη το παρώ επάνω μου.
Β Κορ. 12,8        ὑπὲρ τούτου τρὶς τὸν Κύριον παρεκάλεσα ἵνα ἀποστῇ ἀπ᾿ ἐμοῦ·
Β Κορ. 12,8              Δια την θλίψιν και δοκιμασίαν αυτήν τρεις φορές παρεκάλεσα τον Κυριον να μου την απομακρύνη.
Β Κορ. 12,9        καὶ εἴρηκέ μοι· ἀρκεῖ σοι ἡ χάρις μου· ἡ γὰρ δύναμίς μου ἐν ἀσθενείᾳ τελειοῦται. ἥδιστα οὖν μᾶλλον καυχήσομαι ἐν ταῖς ἀσθενείαις μου, ἵνα ἐπισκηνώσῃ ἐπ᾿ ἐμὲ ἡ δύναμις τοῦ Χριστοῦ.
Β Κορ. 12,9              Και ο Κυριος μου είπε· “σου αρκεί η χάρις μου· διότι η δύναμίς μου φαίνεται ολοένα και τελειοτέρα μέσα εις την ανθρωπίνην αδυναμίαν με τα μεγάλα και θαυμαστά έργα που κατορθώνει”. Με πολύ μεγάλην εσωτερικήν γλυκύτητα και ευχαρίστησιν θα καυχώμαι περισσότερον δια τας ασθενείας μου, ώστε να μένω έτσι εις την ταπεινοφροσύνην, δια να κατοικήση εις εμέ η δύναμις του Χριστού.
Β Κορ. 12,10      διὸ εὐδοκῶ ἐν ἀσθενείαις, ἐν ὕβρεσιν, ἐν ἀνάγκαις, ἐν διωγμοῖς, ἐν στενοχωρίαις, ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ· ὅταν γὰρ ἀσθενῶ, τότε δυνατός εἰμι.
Β Κορ. 12,10             Δια τούτο δοκιμάζω εσωτερικήν χαράν και ευφροσύνην εις τας ασθενείας, εις τας ύβρεις, εις τας ανάγκας, στους διωγμούς, εις τας στενοχωρίας, τας οποίας υφίσταμαι και υπομένω δια τον Χριστόν. Διότι όταν ευρίσκωμαι υπό το κράτος αυτών των ασθενειών, τότε με την χάριν του Θεού γίνομαι και είμαι δυνατός. 

To most students of the Pauline epistles, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 must surely stand out as exceptional among Pauline texts. Elsewhere the interpreter may well feel at home amid Paul's pastoral and theological musings. But here, suddenly, the apostle ascends into the heavens and takes the unsuspecting reader with him. And just as Paul the visionary is charged to divulge his revelations to no man, so the baffled exegete may find it impossible to say anything intelligible about this bizarre text. The present piece will attempt to make 2 Corinthians a bit more intelligible, yet perhaps at the price of making it seem rather more bizarre as well!
As for the setting of the passage, Paul finds himself embattled with cynical "super-apostles" (11:5) who malign his weakness and unimpressiveness. By contrast, they think, they can appeal to "visions and revelations" which serve to accredit them just like the prophets of old. What can Paul possibly pro­duce to compare with such wonders? After all, they must have assured the gullible Corinthians, he's never mentioned such experiences, has he? Well then! Paul responds in our text by breaking his fourteen-year silence, and adducing a quite spec­tacular visionary experience from the past. Quickly explaining his reticence to describe it heretofore, Paul spurns an appeal to such things for accreditation purposes. Confidence should instead be based on observable and proven character which he is sure he has amply demonstrated. But to silence the scoffers, and to beat them at their own worthless game, Paul allows him­self to "boast." He seems to be having a bit of fun at his own expense, as well as that of his rivals. Basically, the thrust of the "pronouncement story" constituted by 2 Corinthians l2:l-10 is that the blessing of God comes only on the heels of adversity, not in the midst of visionary ecstasy. How does he know this? Because his own journey to heaven resulted in the former, not the latter! Though this gist has been obvious enough to all exe­getes, it is safe to say that the individual details of the story have seemed obscure. Not only so, but the exact connection is less than clear between the "revelations" and the mysterious "thorn" received by Paul on account of them. The present notes will seek to clarify these points in a new and perhaps surprising way.

First, it should be recalled that the motif of a visionary journey to heaven or paradise must have been well-known to the apostle. Much of the contemporary apocalyptic literature known to us deals with the ascension into heaven of various ancient patriarchs and prophets including Enoch, Ezra, Baruch, Moses, and Levi. They return to divulge what they have seen and heard. They have learned "secrets" pertaining to the end of the age, the hierarchy of angels, astronomy, and calendar lore. In our passage, as elsewhere in his correspondence, Paul evidences familiarity with this world of ideas. For instance, he knows that it was "the third" of multiple heavens that he visited. And as the ancient visionaries were said to have traveled sometimes physically (Enoch, Elijah, Baruch), and sometimes astrally (Ezekiel, Moses), Paul also knows both as theoretical possi­bilities (verses 2-3).

Another branch of Jewish arcana with which Paul may have been familiar, as J. Bowker shows,1 is that of Merka­bah ("throne") mysticism. This was a mystical technique prac­ticed in Paul's day and for centuries afterward. It can be traced as far back as the first century A.D. among the pupils of rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai. Hints of it are also to be found in earlier works including the Testament of Levi, 1 Enoch, and the Qumran scrolls. In the opinion of Gershom Scholem, the apostle Paul forms a connecting historical link between such literature and the later, developed, Merkabah mysticism. Basically, such a mystic contemplated Ezekiel's vision of God's throne (Ezekiel 1:4-2:14) in hopes of experiencing a vision of the heavenly throne-chariot himself. Though Bowker does not bother to adduce significant parallels between Merkabah texts and Paul's experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, these are not lacking, as will be shown presently.

Having briefly recalled the context of our passage as well as the thought world in which it is to be set, the discussion will proceed to the identity of Paul's "thorn in the flesh." Paul is said thus to be afflicted to avoid his becoming insufferably proud over the privilege of listening in on heavenly mysteries (kai te huperbole ton apokalupseon). Verse 7's mention of "revelations" is usually taken to refer back to the series of visionary experi­ences first mentioned in verse 1, of which the one here described is but a single example. This need not be so. Instead, I suggest that the "revelations" of verse 7 have a more immediate ante­cedent, i.e., the "unutterable utterances" (arreta hremata) of verse 4. Thus the thorn will have been inflicted in direct con­nection with the heavenly secrets disclosed to Paul on the par­ticular occasion described in our passage. The importance of this suggestion for our exegesis will soon be clear.

But what of the "thorn" itself? Needless to say, it has been a thorn in the side to exegetes as well. Most explanations make of the thorn a physical or nervous illness of some sort. Among other candidates are such maladies as malaria, epilepsy, eye-trouble, neuralgia, colic, rheumatism, and leprosy! It would be no wonder that the apostle would have traveled with a "beloved physician"! A few have understood "flesh" in a less literal sense and so take Paul to mean some besetting sin or temptation. Menoud has claimed that Paul is referring to his anguish over Israel's hardness of heart toward Christ. Mullins gives good reasons to take the thorn as meaning an irritating enemy. He points out that similar descriptions of enemies occur in the Septuagint version of Numbers 33:55; Joshua 23:13; 1 Kings 14:9; 2 Chronicles 24:8; Song of Solomon 2:2; Ezekiel 2:6; 28:24; Micah 7:4. He also suggests that the use of kolaphidzo ("to beat with the fist") implies a personal antagonist. Paul's Corinthian opponents are already designated in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 as Satan's diakonoi, a term very similar to aggelos Satana in 12:7.2

Paul did indeed agonize over Jewish unbelief, but this hardly seems to be in view here. And though he did have to fight sensual temptation (1 Corinthians 9:27), it is rather hard to see how he would have made the connection between any particular sin and his visionary experience. That the thorn was a sin is especially unlikely since the purpose of the thorn was to prevent him from indulg;ng in sin, i.e., of pride. Contextually, proba­bly the best of these options is Mullins' theory of personal oppo­nents, but the same weakness besets all these suggestions. How would Paul have concluded that any of these things was sent his way in connection with his journey to Paradise? At this point the kinship of Paul's vision with Jewish "throne mysticism" makes things much clearer.
In the more elaborate descriptions of Merkabah visions, we find the visionary being attacked by angels and/or demons on his way to the divine throne room. Scholem describes the typical vision: "As the journey progresses, the dangers become pro­gressively greater. Angels and archons storm against the trav­eler 'in order to drive him out ...."'3 According to the Munich manuscript of the Hekhaloth texts: “... if anyone was unworthy to see the King in his beauty, the angels at the gates disturbed his senses and confused him .... But he was standing in front of the angels when... they began to stone him and... they strike his head... and wound him.4
In a lesser Hekhaloth text, Rabbi Akiba describes his journey to paradise: "In that hour when I ascended on high,... when I came to the curtain, angels of destruction went forth to destroy me."5
Our suggestion is that, in light of such texts, it makes sense to understand the thorn in the flesh "an angel of Satan, sent to buffet me," as quite literally a demon or malevolent angel, sent to punish Paul's pride at the wonder of his experi­ence. "Thorn"(skolops) in classical usage can mean "stake" and can be equivalent to "cross" (stauros). Paul's pride was deflated, and the phrase is parallel and equivalent to Galatians 5:24: "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." Thus, like the visionaries in the Hekhaloth passages, he must "take his licks" insofar as he is "unworthy" to see the enthroned Lord.

Reconstructing the heavenly scenario, we may imagine this to have been the sequence of events: Paul finds himself caught up into heaven. There he is treated to ineffable revela­tions. Waxing proud over his enviable position, Paul suddenly finds himself the object of attack by a punishing demon or angel. Paul appeals thrice to the exalted Lord on the heavenly throne before him, who finally declares that Paul must learn his lesson; i.e., "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." It is a lesson that Paul learned well, car­rying it with him through subsequent, earthly trials (2 Corin­thians 12:10). This picture may seem to some readers a bit too outlandish to be plausible, but let the reader keep in mind that he is already dealing with the story of a man who claims to have visited heaven one day! Given a camel of this size, why strain at the mere gnat proposed here?
A couple of details in the passage may not seem to comport with the present reconstruction. Paul prayed three times that the "angel" might leave him. To most readers, it sounds as if Paul had prayed for some kind of healing. After a while, with no recovery in sight, Paul would pray again, until after the third time he resigned himself. Yet the three requests do not need to denote an extended period. In Mark 14:35-39 we see Jesus pray­ing one prayer three times on one occasion.
The reader may be asking how, if (according to this read­ing of the text) Paul was literally pummeled by an attacker, he could have not known whether his ascent to paradise was "in the body" (2 Corinthians 12:2-3)? Here again, another New Testa­ment text provides clarification. In Acts 12, Peter is awakened in prison by an angel striking him on the side (a circumstance very similar to that envisioned here), yet he is unsure whether it is all really happening, or merely a vision (Acts 12:9). In the same way, Paul may have experienced apparently corporeal pain, yet not have known whether his presence were physical or merely astral.
In conclusion, it will be interesting to note that Paul's experience (as reconstructed here) finds further parallels in other early Christian literature. Visionaries find themselves under demonic/angelic attack, from which they are to learn a lesson. For instance, Hermas' fourth vision finds him being charged by a huge monster which "is a type of the persecution to come." He is to learn this lesson and pass it on to his brethren: “Put your faith in the Lord, you men of divided purpose, because He can do all things and turns aside His wrath from you, while He sends scourges on you who doubt in your heart.” [my emphasis] (Vis. 4, II, 6).
As in Paul's vision, the hero is to learn to trust the Lord's power in adversity. Similarly, in the twelfth mandate, he is told: "The Devil can wrestle with, but not overcome them [my emphasis]." (Man. 12, V, 2). In the seventh parable, he asks the angel of repentance to call off the avenging angel who is severely afflicting him. But "If he endures the afflictions that come to him, mercy to the full will be granted by the Creator of all things, who also has given strength and who will grant a remedy" (Sim. 7, I, 4). Here an angel is behind troubles suf­fered in waking life, yet this lesson is symbolized by a vision where Hermas sees the avenging angel beating Christians and throwing them into patches of thorns! (Sim. 6, II, 5 6).
In the second-century Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felici­tas, the heroine has two visions, wherein she steps on the head of a dragon, and defeats Satan in gladiatorial combat. From these demonic conflicts, she learns that she will be given grace in adversity; she will be victorious in facing her death for Christ. (Martyrdom, 4 and 10).
Eusebius tells the story of Natalius who had been seduced by heresy. He finally repented of his error when he was "lashed by holy angels, through the whole night, and was thus most severely punished." He had learned his lesson and, in sackcloth and ashes, begged to be readmitted to the orthodox communion. (Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter XXVIII). The demonic harassment theme occurs again in early medieval vision litera­ture, e. g., the visions of Furseus in 621 A.D. and Drihthelm ca. 725 A.D.
The present reconstruction of Paul's journey to paradise has the advantage of providing a logical connection between the superlative visions on the one hand, and the punitive experience of the "thorn" on the other, a feature conspicuous by its absence from most of the exegetical theories. It also makes sense of this visionary pronouncement story as a whole by placing it against the background of ancient Jewish and Christian vision literature. As warned earlier, the passage seen this way may seem even further removed from the experience of modern readers than it did before. Yet the "punch line" is always the important thing in a pronouncement story. And there is no rea­son that Paul's lesson should be alien to the experience of any modern reader: "My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness."
1. J. Bowker, "'Merkabah' Visions and the Visions of Paul," Journal of Semitic Studies, 16, 1971, pp. 158-159. 
2. T. Y. Mullins, "Paul's Thorn in the Flesh," Journal of Biblical Literature, 76, 1957, pp. 301-303. 
3. Gershom G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysti­cism (New York: Schocken Books, 1973), p. 51 
4. Ibid., pp. 52-53. 
5. Gershom G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theo­logical Seminary of America, 1965), p. 77.


Robert M. Price : A FUNDAMENTALIST SOCIAL GOSPEL? (Neo-Evangelicalism)


 By Robert M. Price

Just a few years ago, our title phrase would have seemed like a contradiction in terms. One of the paramount tenets of the fundamentalist movement was its individualistic piety, its stubborn withdrawal from the social and political arena.  As is only too well known, this retreat came as a reaction to the theological liberalism of the “Social Gospel” movement.  But it had not always been so. As Timothy Smith, Donald Dayton, and others have pointed out for us, Evangelical Christians (at least some of them) had played notable roles in early periods of social reform in America. Indeed, the attention Smith, Dayton, et al., have received from Evangelical readers is symptomatic that the tide has turned once again. It is surely one of the most important and welcome of the many religious phenomena of recent years, that Conservative Protestants are becoming vigorously interested in a kind of “social gospel” of their own. Witness the various organizational names: “Evangelicals for McGovern,”  “Evangelicals for Social Action,” “Evangelical Womens Caucus.” And this is but to name a few. 
Though the new Evangelical social awakening may seem long overdue, it is also the product of a long development. The present revival of social concern among Evangelical Christians seems to stem historically from the clarion call of the “Neo-Evangelical" movement, as sounded forth in the late 19401s by its pioneers Harold J. Ockenga, Edward J. Carnell, and Carl F. H. Henry. 

The hallmark of "Neo-Evangelicalism" was a repudiation of fundamentalist separatism, and this at several levels. Neo-Evan­gelicals, though still avowedly fundamentalist in doctrine, wanted to remain in mainline denominations. And they wanted to pursue dialogue with Neo­-Orthodox and Liberal theologians on an academic level. Yet one needn’t look too far before it became apparent that primarily all that was intended was a change of tactics. Ockenga announced the Neo-Evangelical goal as one of “infiltrating" and taking over mainline denominations. Henry and Carnell wanted merely to get a better, more respectable, platform for funda­mentalist apologetics. As for the new call to social action, it too was, in Henry’s phrase, “a plea for evangelical demonstration.”  The not-so-hidden agenda was to make Evangelical Christianity the spearhead for social reform partly, at least one suspects, to gain credibility for it as a theological alternative. And still today present in the literature of the "Young Evangelicals,”one may find the inference, if not the outright assertion, that Evangelicals have a superior approach to social action. What can this mean since there is no uniformity of political opinion among Young Evangelicals? Basically it all revolves about the strong element of biblicism still present in Evangelical social theory. Evangelical Christians themselves see this "centrality of the Bible” as their strong point, whatever particular positions result from this. They feel that they can avoid the subjective trendiness of the 60's Liberal Protestant activism, as well as the discouragement that resulted from the intransigence of the problems the Liberals faced. 

After all, they have the "scriptural mandates," what Carl Henry would have called "biblical verities,” to stand on, not the mere sentimentality of con­science. This all sounds good, but closer examination will show cause for reservations. I am going to describe a certain hermeneutical naiveté which mars the otherwise quite admirable political consciousness-raising now occurring among Evangelicals. There is evidence of a wide-ranging rethink­ing of hermeneutics among Evangelicals (see recent writings by Clark Pinnock, Daniel Fuller, and Charles Kraft), but in much of the social action literature, we may be surprised to find a survival of the unsophisticated fundamentalist approach to the Bible. This naiveté results in two different abuses which I am going to call "hermeneutical ventriloquism" and "political snake-handling.” 

Most Conservative Evangelicals have been taught that personal opinions and cultural views are worthless unless they can make direct appeal to a biblical warrant of some sort. Many of the current "Young Evangelical" writers grew up in the 60's, and could not resist the perceived cogency of certain cultural trends, for instance, racial and sexual equality, or nonviolence. Their religious upbringing provided no basis or authorization for espousing such views, however. (For a 'couple of autobiographical accounts along these lines, see the introductions to Dayton's Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and Wallis’ Agenda for Biblical People.) Some renounced their religious background. Others sought to accommodate their new, liberalized, stance to their Evangelical ethos. The main strategy here was an appeal to the Bible that I call "hermeneutical ventriloquism." The Young Evangelical approaches the problem like this: "Feminism (for example) is true; the Bible teaches the truth; therefore the Bible must teach feminism." Now it is far from obvious that the Bible explicitly teaches feminism, yet the Young Evangelical will feel he or she has no right to be a feminist unless “the Bible tells me so.” Thus the primary task of the reform-minded Evangelical is to make the Bible teach feminism in the most plausible way. I think it is rather revealing in this regard to examine the intra-feminist dialogue in Young Evangelical publica­tions. There we find at least two competing approaches. Sharon Gallagher, Aida Spencer, Letha Scanzoni and others maintain that rightly understood, the plain sense of the text has always been feminist in nature. For instance, I Timothy 2:12 read in the light of Assyrian, rabbinic or Hellenistic texts, seems suddenly to mean that women should not teach only if they happen to be heretics, orgiasts, etc. Or the "headship" of Christ over the church, and of husband over wife, in Ephesians 5:23 really connotes "source," not "authority," despite the context which would seem to suggest that "source" implies “authority" (e. g., Ephesians 1:22). Other writers, e. g., Virginia Mollencott and Paul Jewett, admit that various biblical texts do inculcate male domination, but that such problem texts “problematic” only to feminists, note) should be ignored in favor of the implicit thrust of other, egalitarian, texts such as Galatians 3:28. At this point I should perhaps mention that I have no objection to such Bultmannian "content criticism," and as a matter of fact I support most Evangelical feminist goals. But I cannot help noticing the ideological nature of these arguments. The agreed upon goal is that the Bible is to support feminism. The debate is over the best way to arrive at this predetermined goal exegetically! The Bible must support the desired social position; otherwise how can the Young Evangelical believe it, much less persuade fellow Evangelicals? 

So far, I have proposed that many activist Evangelicals have really come to hold their social views on the basis of cultural osmosis or legitimate political argumentation. But they need to believe that "biblical mandates" are the reason for their conviction. The real reason has been hidden, even from themselves. There is real utility (and real danger) in this unnoticed ground- shifting if one is trying to convert other Evangelicals to, e. g. , "biblical feminism. " If one can plausibly appeal to biblical texts, the battle is nearly won, but quite possibly on false pretenses. Since prooftexting (albeit sophisticated) is the avowed criterion, other more subtle and more appropriate criteria are ignored, even on principle. "Worldly" considerations like pragmatic or political realities (the real though hidden origins of the Young Evangelical's own position) must bow to exegetical arguments. Obviously, Young Evangelicals will do a better job dealing with the inevitable practical factors if they consciously recognize their presence. 

There is an even more disturbing implication to all this. When biblical texts are the only sufficient reason for holding ethical and political views, a dubious "divine voluntarism" results. For instance, in a discus­sion of apartheid, David Field remarks: 
From a Christian point of view, it is. important to examine the case for apartheid in some detail. . . because among its strongest sup­porters it numbers Christians who claim to have tested their attitudes and opinions by the standards of Scripture. 2 

The barely hidden implication is that if the apartheid advocates could marshall sufficiently weighty exegetical support, Field would agree with them! For­tunately, however, Field is obviously too sensitive and noble a person for this to have any chance of happening, no matter what reading of the Bible should come out ahead. But the point is, his conscience is better than his methodology. 

But there is a second group of Young Evangelicals who take something like Field's avowed biblicism with a good deal more seriousness. I have in mind primarily the Sojourners Community and their orbit, but the same attitude can be found elsewhere. These are the “political snake-handlers.” Our first group, the "hermeneutical ventriloquists, " think to espouse positions because of the Bible, but do so actually because of unsuspected political/cul­tural factors. Now our second group actually does dispense with all political realities. Here the operative principle is “The Bible said it - I believe it ­ that settles it!” We face an absolutist sort of “deontological” ethics. In other words, "the means justifies the end" (read that again). As long as we obey the "biblical mandates of radical discipleship, 'I we can let God worry about where the chips fall. In their own terms, it is a choice of "faithfulness" over "effectiveness." Young Evangelicals may take such an approach to pacificism, unilateral disarmament, “no-nukism," multinational corporate exploitation, or world hunger. Solutions to such problems seem simple, because the issues are seen in black-and-white terms. What is the absolutely righteous thing to do? Then let's do it! And if the standard of living drops, people lose jobs, foreign powers pounce, then what? Trust the Lord! Even if he doesn’t deliver us from a nuclear attack prompted by our unilateral disarmament, our country is no doubt sinful enough to deserve what it gets. At any rate, it will provide the Young Evangelical “righteous remnant” (the explicit terms, incidentally, in which they see themselves) with an excellent opportunity to "go the way of the cross," paying the cost of radical disciple­ship. What else can a “radical Christian” expect in this fallen age? 

We have seen this kind of thing in Evangelicalism before. Premillenialists have often blindly supported Israel against the Palestinians regardless of (not because of) political considerations. All they needed to know was that If God promised the land to the Jews." But besides this it seems to me that there is a rather obvious parallel between such a political stance and the faith which leads fringe Pentecostals to refuse medical care in favor of "Doctor Jesus” who will heal miraculously. It is not unrealistic even to call to mind the Appalachian snake handlers whose blinding faith in Mark 16:18 assures them that the serpents will not strike. (Thus my designation “political snake­ handling” for this viewpoint.) Most Evangelicals readily repudiate such extremism. Faith, they realize, must be coupled with realistic common sense, if one is to maintain any sense of proportion at all. How then can they let themselves throw realism to the winds when it comes to politics? And the reader should keep in mind that this is quite literally being advocated when we are told to brush aside the considerations of If this “age” in favor of the alien standards of the Kingdom of God. When Jim Wallis writes words like the following, it becomes evident that he has decided for a stance that disregards political reality as we know it: “… biblical politics are invariably alien to the politics of the established regime and will also question the politics of the new regime that any revolution will eventually establish for itself.”3 In other words, the gospel as understood by Wallis is incompatible with any conceivable state of political affair’s! This man is playing in a completely different ballpark than most of the rest of us. This is a radically negating "Christ against Culture" position.
Now if it were clear that allegiance to the Kingdom were to be put in these terms, what could one do but grit one's teeth and go the way of the thermonuclear cross? But it is not quite so clear except to the biblicist. We may yet hope to see a more sophisticated Evangelical hermeneutic that will not lift the (interim-ethical?) injunctions of the New Testament out of the first century and drop them heavily on the twentieth. Perhaps the writings of Reinhold Niebuhr or Jose Miguez Bonino might be helpful guides. And of course there are appropriately- reasoned political defenses for pacifism (e. g., that of Martin Luther King) and other positions espoused by Young Evangelicals. What is disturbing is the biblicistic, "let-the-chips­ fall-where-they-may" attitude often present in their literature. Given the fundamentalist personal background of many Young Evangelical writers, this unconscious hangover of biblicism is not too surprising. What is truly astonishing is the enthusiasm with which their rhetoric has been embraced by some famous mainstream churchmen who, hermeneutically speaking, ought to know better. Perhaps such Liberal Protestants are tired of the ambiguous fruits of their conventional lobbying and editorial efforts. Young Evangelicals seem to offer a new cause with vigor and conviction. One is reminded of the denominational reaction to the current cult phenomena; i. e., "What are we doing wrong? Why can't we muster the enthusiasm and commitment that the Moonies can?" But sometimes simple answers are not the best. The burden of ambiguity and of being "old-hat" may have something to do with Christian faithfulness in the long run. Just a thought.  
The much-maligned Evangelical apologist Francis Schaeffer has wisely noted that the rejection of fundamentalist legalism, ironically, often results in a "new super-spirituality," i.e., the old fundamentalism with a vengeance. I suggest that both the "hermeneutical ventriloquism" and the "political snake­ handling" detailed here, as serious as they are in themselves, are merely part of such a youthful burst of enthusiasm. No doubt the creative insight and ingenuity already being shown everywhere among the Young Evangelicals ­will lead them to recognize and mature past these abuses. If this essay has facilitated such a recognition, its purpose will have been amply served.

1 See Richard Quebedeaux, The Young Evangelicals (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1974). 
2 David Field, Free to do Right (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1976),    p. 10.
3 Jim Wallis, "Liberation: and Conformity,” in Gerald H. Anderson and Thomas F. Stransky (eds.), Mission Trends No.4, Liberation Theologies (New York: Paulist Press, and Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), p. 55.