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Paul's "in Christ" - the mystical theory.

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In Paul's thirteen letters the 'in Christ' phrase, with its variants (in the Lord etc.), appears about 167 times. Since Deissmann's foundational study of the phrase over 100 years ago scholars have suggested many theories seeking to explain Paul's meaning in its use . Their findings range over several disciplines, but are inconclusive. Our study takes a fresh theological look at the phrases, and seeks to test the hypothesis that "Paul uses the 'in Christ' phrase principally in a mystical sense". Christian mysticism is defined as "union with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit". Firstly, eight models of mysticism are constructed from various disciplines and examined to give an overview of mysticism, i.e. historic (Judaism and Apocalyptic, Neoplatonic), anthropology (Synderesis), ecclesiastic (Eastern Orthodox, Holy Spirit / Charismatic), personal (Schweitzer, Calvin), and Postmodern. Jewish mysticism is found to exist from about 300BC in two forms - contemplative and chariot. Christian mysticism derives from Jewish mysticism and has the same goal- union with God. Secondly, a study of Paul's background reveals parallels in his theology showing possible influences from contemporary sources. Thirdly, Paul's 'in Christ' phrase and its variants with different prepositions indicate that the phrase probably derives from the early church's baptism liturgy and focuses in particular upon the new creation which replaces the old. Fourthly, of the many theories advanced to account for the 'in Christ' phrase five are examined, all of which can make a contribution towards understanding the phrase better. Fifthly, an original theory which is mystical is proposed in which Paul's 'in Christ' phrases are divided into those that relate to God's Work in Christ 66 (40%), and to Believers' Work in Christ 101 (60%) . The first category phrases are indicative, objective and positional; the second are imperative, subjective and practical. The twofold division is typical of Paul's letter - writing style, with encouragement and practice following doctrine. Both categories are further subdivided. Paul's theology is Christocentric as revealed to him after hisconversion and call by Christ. The 'in Christ' phrase may be said to be the answer to all the problems of the early church for it is axiomatic that God can accept nothing that is not in Christ. This is evident from Paul's outline of God's pre - history plan for His creation which is fulfilled when all things in heaven and on earth are united 'in Christ' . Since Christology takes precedence over other theological doctrines which are derived from it, so the 'in Christ' phrase may be seen as central to Paul's theology in pre - history, through time and into eternity again. As the analysis of mysticism reveals, it has many similarities with the 'in Christ' phrase, and both doctrines could be defined in the same way. The mystical interpretation seems to provide the fullest understanding of scripture, and thus when Paul's phrase is examined mystically its true intentions seem to be revealed for the believer's lifestyle, for maintaining church unity and fellowship with fellow believers, and for providing the closest relationship with God through the beatific vision, mystical union, spiritual marriage or deification. In church history the 'in Christ' phrase and the mystical element were slowly replaced by scholasticism and institutionalism, but from the beginning of the twentieth century the world -wide charismatic revival is restoring them hence the present . phenomenal church growth and ecumenical outreach. The hypothesis that Paul uses the 'in Christ' phrase principally in a mystical sense may be said to be confirmed.


Thesis (Ph.D)-University of Durban-Westville, 2001.


Private revelations., Mysticism--Catholic church.