Mike’s note: This is part of a guest series by Alexander John Shaia, sharing his insights gleaned from a lifetime of studying (and living) personal transformation, closely based on his explosive book Heart and Mind. Want to meet him in person? Join Alexander, Mona Haydar, Jasmin Morrell, Bushi Yamato Damashii, myself and others at Wisdom Camp this July 12th! Details and registration here. In the meantime, enjoy this reflection!
This first “key” to human transformation in the Gospels was once a cornerstone of early Christian belief that has over the centuries been tragically left by the wayside. Today, in much of Christian conversation there seems to be an underlying assumption that Jesus was born, lived, died, was resurrected—and then somehow died again. There is an overwhelming emphasis on the crucifixion and on “Jesus died for our sins.” These beliefs tend to treat Jesus as though he is more dead than resurrected. But for Christians, our fundamental witness is that Jesus the Christ lives. Early Christians never made this mistake, in part because they never used only the name Jesus. They regularly used the full sacred name Jesus the Christ, (or its abbreviation Christ Jesus), and they lived the truth of this name in their spiritual practices.
The apostle Paul is the earliest known Christian writer. In about 45 to 60 CE, Paul wrote extensively and translated many concepts from their original Aramaic, spoken in Palestine, into Greek, the language of commerce most widely understood in the Mediterranean region. It is generally believed that Paul’s writings predate the first of the four traditional gospels by at least five years. When he wrote, Paul chose the Greek word “Christos,” which meant “the anointed one” to replace the Aramaic word “Messiah,” which had a corresponding definition.
Paul genuinely understood the full import of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He knew that the names “Messiah” and “Christos” were both inadequate—that no words could express the full truth of the divine. Although the meaning of “Christos” was important and would carry a strong part of Hebrew history forward, Paul knew Jewish theology very well. He fully understood the Hebrew concept of naming God as “I AM”—a reality both within and outside of time. He knew he had to do still more in order to faithfully transmit a more complete understanding of Jesus’message.
Therefore, Paul tried to build greater comprehension through everything he wrote that expanded the perception of “the anointed one.” He knew he had the responsibility to carry the greatest of messages, not just to his fellow Jews, but to all people. Paul’s example and precepts had, I believe, a radical influence on the development of Christianity, and as a result on gospel writing in general and on all four of the gospel writers, although we will see his direct impact most powerfully in the Gospel of John.
In 1 Corinthians, thought by some scholars to be the only letter solely composed by the apostle himself, Paul made it clear that he knew the Christ as preexisting the world. He wrote, “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Also, that the Christ was “the spiritual rock” from which the Hebrews drank in the desert (1 Corinthians 10:4). Other letters say that Moses “suffered abuse for the Christ” (Hebrews 11:26).
And in Colossians we find written that the Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in (the Christ) all things in heaven and on earth are created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or ruler or powers—all things are created through (the Christ) and for (the Christ). (The Christ) is before all things, and in (the Christ) all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15–17).
These and many other of Paul’s writings make it clear that he understood the Christ as an overarching, eternal, holy power without individual characteristics of any kind, existing in all dimensions, simultaneously within time and completely outside of time. For example, the Christ was present with Moses long before Jesus’ physical arrival on earth. Paul knew and wrote of the Christ as an eternal reality, and he comprehended Jesus as an individuated embodiment of that reality.
Although Paul had frequent disagreements with Peter and the other apostles, who initially saw things in a more limited way, eventually Paul’s views prevailed. By the time the four gospels were written, and throughout the early centuries of Christianity, the formal name used by all believers was the full three words long: Jesus the Christ. If anyone were to have used a shortened version, it would still have held the unlimited and immutable reality of the full name. The power of Paul’s persuasion is undeniably clear, because the new religion ultimately derived its name from the sacred title he devised, becoming “Christian,” instead of what might have been more likely—Jesusian.
The deep understanding with which Paul imbued this prodigious name is a significant factor in the revolutionary story form of the “gospel.” By the time the first gospel was orally composed in those horrendous days in Rome when being a Christian was a certain death sentence, Mark was really not telling the biography of Jesus at all.
In fact, Mark was recounting Jesus the Christ as a living, present-moment reality to his community, as the great name in effect mandated he do—even though it was some thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And so were the gospel writers who came after Mark. In general, scripture scholars for the past few centuries have failed to note the fact that readers in those early days knew and accepted and acknowledged the resurrection without hesitation. Therefore, the great name Jesus the Christ automatically meant the gospel accounts in these communities were heard (or chanted or read) as present-moment realities happening in their midst and not primarily historical recitations.
Join us here tomorrow when we look at the next key, exploring Paul’s often-hidden influence on the Gospels. And please share your reflections in the comments!
Alexander John Shaia, PhD, is a thoughtful and poetic man, living the ancient rhythms of his Lebanese and Aramaic heritage. With deep conviction, he invites us into a practice of spirituality (and Christianity) for the twenty-first century—one that crosses traditional boundaries, encourages vital thinking and inhabits a genuine community of the heart. As a spiritual director, educator, anthropologist, psychologist, ritualist and Sandplay therapist, Alexander is a holistic, cross-discipline visionary and passionate professional speaker. He founded The Journey of Quadratos, as well as the Blue Door Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Now he travels internationally, speaking, leading seminars and conducting retreats on Quadratos, the Four-Gospel Journey and Gateway to Oneness (The 72 Hours of Easter). Each autumn Alexander guides an intimate band of pilgrims on the Camino, the West’s most ancient path of transformation. He’s just released the updated edition of Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, which this post is based on. See Quadratos.com for more about his work and offerings.