A braggart is defined by the dictionary as “a loud arrogant boaster.” Hence people who boast do so to give others a high opinion of themselves or of their accomplishments. Arrogance is defined as “a feeling or impression of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or presumptuous claims.”
In the New Testament boasting and bragging arise from arrogance (Greek, alazoneia) and are regarded as evil (James 4:16). In addition arrogance is associated with access to excessive resources that support life (literally translated, “arrogance of life”). Such arrogance is “not of the Father,” but “of the world” (1 John 2:16). Arrogant boasting (alazones) is thought to be characteristic of people who have merely a “form of religion” but who actually deny its power (2 Tim 3:5). Boasting (Rom 1:30) is further described as a characteristic of “wicked people who suppress the truth” (Rom 1:18). Hence arrogance and boasting are not simple boorish behaviors, but rather they are included among an impressive array of negative behaviors condemned in biblical texts (Rom 1:28-31) that are characteristic behaviors of people whom God rejects (Rom 1:28).
Further, arrogance is associated in the New Testament with hubris (hubris), extreme pride or arrogance (Romans 1:30; hubris is translated in this verse as “insolent”). Aristotle defines hubris as doing and saying things at which the victim incurs shame, not in order that one may achieve anything other than what is done, but in order to get pleasure from it (Fisher, “hubris,” Oxford Classical Dictionary, 732-33). Instances of hubris in the ancient world were believed to draw retributive punishment from the ancient Greek Gods.
Imagine my surprise to learn that boasting is attributed to Yahweh, the God of ancient Israel, who was fond of saying: “I am Yahweh, and there is no other, besides me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5; 43:11, 44:6, 44:8, 45:6, 45:21; compare Deuteronomy 4:35). Of course there were/are many Gods to be found in the ancient world but Yahweh was a jealous God and tolerated no rivals (Exodus 20:3, 5; 34:14). In Christianity the early Christ cults also tolerated no rivals to Jesus the anointed of the Lord: Luke writes: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Apparently, if one’s own God boasts, one tends to hear it as a positive statement of fact and not negatively as a boast. And if the boast concerns a tenet of one’s own religious belief, it is heard as a justification of the rightness of one’s religious belief. Thus, these two “brags” suggest that in the Bible some boasts are “good” while others are “bad”—even though arrogance and boasting as such are condemned in the New Testament.
Even the Apostle Paul boasted. For example, he boasted about some of his converts (2 Corinthians 7:14; 8:24; 9:1-3); he boasted about his own authority (2 Corinthians 10:8); and he boasted about his independence in not taking support from the Jesus gathering at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11:7-11). He boasted even when he knew that some would regard such speech as irrational discourse (2 Corinthians 11:16-33 and 12:1-10).
I am particularly interested in the claims of exclusivity in early Christianity as reflected in Acts 4:12—that there is no other way of salvation except through Jesus. Such an exclusive claim in effect completely dismisses the value of every other religion as meaningless.
What is it that allows people to gloss over disconnects like this (arrogance and boasting are acceptable in some cases but severely condemned generally) in the Bible and not even notice them. There could be many reasons, but they are basically overlooked because we are not taught to read the Bible critically. We have been misled by an effective rhetoric of fiction that touts the Bible as the “Word of God,” a claim that discourages readers from reading these ancient texts in a discriminating way.*
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
*See “Wry Thoughts about Religion” Jan 26, 2015: “When did the Bible become the Word of God?” and Jan 12, 2015: “What does the Term “Word of God” as applied to the Bible signify?”
I think that this may be the most compelling column that you've written since I've been participating in the blog.
As I see it, what's missing in the historical/boasting interpretation by the church of the New Testament is the recognition that all religions are walled-in. In the case of Jesus it would seem that the walled-in practice is the religion of the Good Father. Jesus offers it as a this world orientation where the values of the Good Father are practiced. In the case of the church it would seem that that the walled-in practice is the religion of the Good Son who submits to crucifixion to redeem a sinful world. In other words, their messages are limited by the meaning of the phrases Good Father and Good Son. Suppose Jesus had taught, "Our Mother who art in heaven." A quite different picture might have emerged. I'm sure that every religion has its own walled-in vision. I'm a Jesus follower because I think that's the best offer we have of where to be walled-in. It's the most tolerant and loving place to be, and wall may be more like a membrane in permeability.
One also finds kauchaomai, if I have transliterated it correctly, (καυχάομαι) and cognates, “brag” or “boast,” around fifty times in the “authentic” Paulines, at a variety of places and situations self-referentially. And, “bragging” is implicit in other places, too many to include in this paragraph. A few: Galatians 1 and 2 are a marvelous expression of self-promotion (boasting) at the expense of others, which one could consider arrogance. One finds this self-aggrandizing in 1 Cor. 3 and 15.9-11 (and elsewhere), the latter in which he is the last, but the hardest worker, the former where he has “planted” and “laid the foundation.” Even the salutations of Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians and Galatians present a Paul who is “set apart” by God or chosen or “by the want of God” or not delegated by humans, but “through Jesus Christ and God” which seem to me like the most egregious examples of “boasts” imaginable, giving the author a persona that transcends mortals. It is self-aggrandizing in order to give the author status, thus give what he is writing special status.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
I need a definition of your term "walled-in."
Good Morning Dennis,
Thanks for the more extensive look at boasting and arrogance.
In polite company boasting is boorish and arrogance demeans the arrogant individual. In religion I think I would regard them a means of propaganda and dishonest. How do you see it?
I see it as propaganda with a purpose. Persuasive writings, whether religious or secular, have a propagandic component in them.
I can speak about ancient letters as a fairly important genre. The Paulines take the form of letters. One purpose of ancient letters was to instruct and to spread one’s philosophical views. Some letters could certainly be called propaganda. One essential aspect was the authority of the writer. (Some of the pseudepigraphic letters spread propaganda in the name of an authority to make their views known.) No one listens to a nobody. The Paulines claim the authority of Paul through boasting, not only of exploits, but of his special relationship to God, the revealing of Christ to him, of his congregations and of his legendary status as founder of communities. He motivates in part by building his status. He wants followers to imitate him. (“Imitate me/us,” 1 Cor.4.16, 11.1, Phil. 3.17 “you imitated us” 1 Thess.1.6, 2.14)
I think this boasting sometimes falls “under the radar” of readers of the Bible, since Paul's persona was enhanced by the exploits found in Acts of the Apostles and the non-canonical writings about Paul, which, for better or worse have made it into “common knowledge,” part of the “biography.” In other words, the letters sound “tamer” than when looked out without the novel (Acts) in front of them. And, that could have been in the back of the author of Acts’ mind.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
walled-in = the impenetrable result of any point of view presented with non-negotiable conviction.
Hi Charlie- I want to comment on Gene and Dennis's comments before I ask you questions. First what Gene said about walled-in and "any point of view presented with non-negotiable conviction." Wow that really sums up my experience with Bible teachers- their point of view was most definitely non-negotiable. That is a good way to put it. I chalk it up to older generation's obsession with authority. Today, the concept of authority is much less important than in my parents and grandparents generation. When someone in "authority" taught you that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and infallible- that's the end of the discussion. In my opinion- that is the height of arrogance.
"We have completely misunderstood what faith is. It's become a belief system. The moment you believe something- there is no need for your mind. Mind is a tool for exploration, not for drawing conclusions. If you make conclusions and you get it endorsed by heaven, then you're calling that faith. Ignorance endorsed by a great authority will not become truth. This is the biggest problem- people think authority is truth." Sadhguru
Do you agree with that Gene?
Dennis- do you think Paul wrote that he was set apart by God himself because he was not a part of the original disciples and had never met Jesus in person? Why do you think his words carried more weight with the NT authors and early church fathers? I just wonder where Paul got his authority from. He certainly used the word "I" more than any other NT writer, that's for sure.
Charlie, in some cases certain words have a positive and a negative connotation. For example, fear: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." But in I John, it says "Perfect love casts out all fear." Another example is "jealous:" "You shall not bow down and worship them for I the Lord am a jealous God." But in Corinthians Paul writes "Love is not jealous..." Could "boasting" be another example of that kind of polarity? Also- do you agree that the moment you believe something, there's no need for your mind anymore because you have drawn conclusions- which leads to boasting and arrogance?
Thank you as always for your unique point of view- and for the fact that your point of view isn't non-negotiable! :-) Elizabeth
He was "set apart" before he was born, according to Galatians, literally separated from the stomach of his mother in Greek, so no, I think this was part of the author's attempt to place himself on a different level than his opponents. He is writing his hardest to elevate his stature and denigrate his opponents. This is made clear in Gal. 1.1, (not from man or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God) which he repeats several times in the first chapter. In other words, he saw himself as a (or the) spokesperson of God and Jesus.
Apparently, the Paulines carried weight because, at least in part, of the popularity of sects of such as Marcion (who seemed to consider Paul the only true apostle) and Valentinus, especially on seaports in and around the Aegean and Mediterranean. According to the Acts Seminar, "A major factor behind the composition of Acts was the perceived threat posed by Marcion and Marcionite Christianity." This sounds reasonable to me. As the saying around here goes, "If you can't fight 'em, join 'em." (Another factor could have been this: If early "Way" ["Christianity" seems a second century term] was considered a Jewish sect to some, the Paulines offered a way to be a part of that religion without the customs, like circumcision & dietary customs.)
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good evening Elizabeth,
I do agree that in the NT there is a "polarity" to bragging and boasting. In my view, however, there is not any positive aspect to bragging and boasting. I always find it to be excessive and boorish.
Certainly some feel that they don't need to use their minds anymore once they have come to believe something. My view, however, is that people should continually be critiquing what they think they know.
Yes, to my mind it's a big problem when folks think that authority is truth. That problem, in its extreme form, is called a cult.
Thank you- that does make sense with regard to the Marcionites. I forgot about that sect. And I've never heard of Valentinus- I'll have to look him up. If you don't mind- one more question: the perceived threat by the Marcionite Christianity... Are you saying the book of Acts was written to give stature and credibility to the Peter and his power/influence?
I agree wholeheartedly that the Paulines made it possible for people like me to participate in what was known at the time as a Jewish sect... The Paulines definitely made is accessible to Gentiles. Many thanks! Elizabeth
I think one of several purposes of Acts was to make Paul palatable to groups that had a different view of who or what Jesus was to them by presenting a Paul that was more in line with that group. Note that he isn't a letter writer in Acts and he gets along well with the disciples after his re-affiliation, unlike one finds in Galatians and is implied in 1 Corinthians. Apparently, Marcion and his canon (10 Paulines and a version of Luke) were popular enough to be a threat, looking at what people like Tertullian, Hippolytus and others wrote, condemning him.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
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