Theosophy – October 1896


In Paul's own account of the turning point of his life, he speaks of "the unveiling of Iesous, of the Christos," within him. To fully understand the thought in his mind, we must find out more precisely in what sense he used these two names, by examining them in their context throughout his letters. The first discovery we make, on doing this, is very remarkable; it is this: that there is no certainty at all what name he used in any particular passage, the manuscripts, even the oldest, differing widely in the report they give of his words.

The necessity for arriving at some certainty in the matter, arises in this way: if Paul uses the name "Iesous," it is probable that he had in his mind a particular personality, who ultimately came to be conceived as a miraculous incarnation, the centre of a whole system of theological speculation; a largely artificial figure having almost nothing in common with the poet-teacher of the Galilean hills, and in whom we can hardly have any living interest. If, on the other hand, Paul uses words like "Christos" or "Pneuma," the Spirit, or the Self, we at once recognize the same divine power that is the centre and inspiration of all religions: and the accession of living interest to what Paul writes is immediate and immense.

Curiously enough, the doubt as to the use of divine names arises at the very outset, when Paul's Conversion is described for the first time by his miracle-loving friend, the author of the Acts. Some manuscripts, and amongst them those followed by the Authorized Version of 1611, read: "And forthwith he proclaimed the Christos, in the assemblies, as the son of the Eternal;" while others, followed by the recent revised version, read: "And forthwith in the assemblies he proclaimed Iesous that he is the son of the Eternal." (1)

The same difficulty follows us all through Paul's own letters. We shall cite some of the most remarkable instances, taking the letters in their traditional order, — which is certainly not the order in which they were written.

This very doubt applies to texts which touch on the essentials of dogmatic theology, as in the following verse: "It is the Christos that died, yes, rather, that was raised;" (2) in which some manuscripts insert "Iesous" before Christos, thus making it impossible to say whether we are dealing with the mystic doctrine of the Spirit's descent into matter, or with the dogma of the sacrifice of the second person of the Trinity to appease the wrath of the first. In the verse that follows, "Who shall cut us off from the love of the Eternal?" other manuscripts read "the love of the Christos." A few verses later, we have a similar confusion: some versions reading: "Belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ," while others run thus: "So then faith by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (3) A little further on, there is a fresh variant, where we have a choice between "serving the Lord" and "serving opportunity," (4) and there is the added difficulty that "the Lord" is used as a translation of various terms in quotations from the old Jewish Book of the Law.

Here is another kind of variation: "To this end the Christos died and lived, to be Lord of both the dead and the living," which other manuscripts almost imperceptibly change into a dogma of a single personal resurrection, thus: "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived,"(5) thus showing a probably quite unconscious tendency to dogmatics and away from mysticism, in the mind of the copyist, who certainly believed that he was simply bringing out more clearly the evident meaning of Paul's words.

We are quite prepared to expect, therefore, that in such verses as this: "I say unto you that the Christos was a minister of the circumcision, for the truth of the Eternal," (6) many manuscripts should take upon themselves to insert "Iesous" before Christos, and our expectations are not disappointed. A further insight into the carelessness of the copyists is given, when we find that "the first fruits of Asia," in some manuscripts, appears as "the first fruits of Achaia" in others. (7) Of the closing section of the epistle to the Romans, it has further been conjectured, with great likelihood, that its real place is at the end of the letter to Ephesus or at any rate a letter to one of the groups of pupils in Asia Minor, since it is in the last degree unlikely that Paul should be personally acquainted with numbers of pupils in Rome, before he had ever been there.

In the epistle which traditionally stands next after that of the Romans, we are again met with a like uncertainty in the use of divine names. Thus we find that "the day of the Lord," in one manuscript, becomes "the day of the Lord Iesous" (8) in another: and again, "Neither let us tempt the Lord," becomes, in other readings, "Let us not tempt the Christos." (9) In the second letter to Corinth, we find a verse of very profound meaning: "Now the Master is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Master is, is freedom," moulded to the uses of dogma thus: "Now the Lord is that Spirit." (10)

In the letter to Ephesus, which many critics, following a very ancient opinion, have thought to be in reality the epistle to the Laodiceans mentioned at the close of the letter to Colossi, there are several doubtful readings of precisely the same nature. For example, while some manuscripts read "the Eternal . . . brought us to life in the Christos," (11) others read "quickened us together with the Christos," thus making it doubtful whether we are dealing with a mystical or a theological thought. A little later, we have the already familiar change of "partakers of the promise in the Christos," to "partakers of the promise in Christos Iesous." (12)

The letter to Philippi also presents illustrations of the same character; thus we read in some manuscripts, "for the work of the Christos he came near death," and in others "for the work of the Master"; (13) and again we find the better reading "I can do all things through him that strengthens me," changed into: "I can do all things through the Christos that strengthens me."

The letter to Colossi, after which the eloquent little note to Philemon should stand as postscript, contains several cases of the same uncertainty as in the following somewhat extended passage: "Even as the lord forgave you, so also do; and above all things love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body: and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly"; (14) of which the following variant is offered by many good manuscripts: "Even as Christ forgave you, so also do: and let the peace of God rule in your hearts . . . Let the word of the Lord dwell in you richly." Yet other manuscripts read: "Let the word of God dwell in you richly."

These are only a few instances out of many, which may be found abundantly, not only in Paul's letters, but also in other parts of the New Testament. A very curious instance is in the "general epistle of Jude," immediately following a verse where we have a choice between "our only Master and Lord, Iesous, the Christos" and, "the one ruler, God, and our Master Iesous the Christos." (15) While the majority of manuscripts read "The Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterwards destroyed those that did not believe." there also exists the alternative reading: "Iesous, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt." If we compare with this a verse from the Apocryphal "Wisdom of the Son of Sirach" in which we read "Mighty in wars was Iesous, . . . who became great according to his name, for the salvation of his chosen people; (16) we shall probably be inclined to believe that Jude really wrote Iesous, the Greek form of Joshua, and had in his mind the son of Nun, and not at all the teacher of the New Testament. If this be so, then we see that the copyists were so careless of the identity of divine names that they did not hesitate here to substitute "the Lord" for Iesous, thus unconsciously deifying Joshua, if our conjecture be correct.

As a result of the few instances we have quoted, and many others too numerous for quotation, it becomes clear that, throughout Paul's epistles, the scribes have done their work so carelessly that there is no certainty at all as to what Paul really wrote, whether "Iesous," or "the Master," or "the Christos." Now there is no doubt at all that in the subsequent centuries, there grew up a quite clearly formed dogma of the incarnation of an anthoropomorphic God as Iesous, who was further identified with the Messiah of Jewish expectation. So that it would be only natural to expect that copyists of those times, — who had the anthropomorphic idea so firmly fixed in their minds that they had really room for nothing else, — should understand Paul to speak of their anthropomorphic incarnation, whenever he used the words "the Master," or "the Christos;" and that it would seem to them not the least reprehensible, but only quite natural to make what they believed to be his meaning clearer by inserting Iesous in every case.

Now, if we can clearly show that Paul had really in his mind another and more spiritual teaching, in which he spoke, not of a personal deity incarnating, but of the universal spirit entering into mankind, we shall be entitled, in view of the already demonstrated changes in the texts, to assume that there are many more changes which have left no mark behind them; and we shall consequently be entitled to see in many texts a mystical and universal meaning, even though the manuscripts agree in giving them a theological and particular sense.

Paul, as we shall fully show, was a mystic; his followers, the copyists of his letters, were theologians with no understanding of his mystical teaching. We shall therefore be justified in believing that they read their theology into his mystical words; the more so as we have already proved that the copyists are quite divided among themselves as to what divine name really did occur in numerous passages. Their bias was wholly theological; we shall therefore be justified in believing that, if they were in the habit of making changes, as we now know they were, those changes would tend to be in a personal and theological direction, at the expense of the true mystical and universal meaning of Paul's words.


1. Acts, ix, 20. (return to text)

2. Romans, viii, 34. (return to text)

3. Romans, x, 17. (return to text)

4. Romans, xii, 12. (return to text)

5. Romans, xiv, 9. (return to text)

6. Romans, xv, 8. (return to text)

7. Romans, xiv. 5. (return to text) '

8. I Cor., v, 5. (return to text)

9. I Cor., x, 9. (return to text)

10. II Cor., iii, 17. (return to text)

11. Ephesians, ii, 5. (return to text)

12. Ephesians, iii, 6. (return to text)

13. Philippians, ii, 30. (return to text)

14. Colossians, iii, 13-16. (return to text)

15. Jude, verse 4. (return to text)

16. Sophia Seirax, 46, 1. (return to text)