Paul and the External Self

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To this point we have been looking for psychological insights within the Scriptures that might coalesce with the Enneagram’s underlying true self/false self philosophy. We experience the false self as an internal reality through feelings of insecurity, anger and fear. Consequently, we have been looking for descriptions of this internal sense of self in Scripture, but these descriptions, if they are to be found in Scripture have eluded me. Bruce Malina appears to be correct in his description of the antiquity’s dyadic personality, which derives its information from outside the self. The scriptural record itself seems to profess this. The prophet Jeremiah proclaims, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (17:9 ESV). In the book of Matthew, Jesus himself directs us to the external self, declaring “Beware of false prophets … You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (7:15-18 ESV).[1]

With this in mind, let us turn our attention to Paul’s discussion of the external self. In Galatians, the apostle recites a baptismal creed, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 ESV). Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free would have been external markers of the false self as they existed within Paul’s audience. People in all times and places identify with the external roles they play in the world. Today, you and I might identify as a Protestant, Catholic, activist, pacifist, liberal or conservative. We identify as being from East Texas or Boston. We identify as a Smith or a Jones. These are a part of what makes up the false self. They help you define you in the world. They are necessary labels, but our limited understanding of self is centered in these things.

Paul collapses these categories, declaring that we must no long anchor our sense of self in these false categories. Instead, we should find our true self “in Christ.” Theologian Udo Schnelle points out that “in Christ” occurs sixty-four times and the “in the Lord” occurs thirty-seven times. A theme this frequent is more than a mere spiritual platitude; it is Paul’svbdefining theological concept. The apostle uses this language to describe a new way of being in the world that tears us out of our self-oriented lives and reorients us to our true selves in their relation to Christ.[2]

When we read Paul’s renunciation of categories like male and female, we must remember the dyadic personalities hearing it would have felt a need for these categories for their very psychological existence. The belonging systems of Jew, Greek, male, female, slave, free were essential for identity because first century identity was anchored in the community in such a dramatic fashion. These ancient selves saw their own identity as deeply embedded in the communities that informed their sense of false self. Dislocating from the communities in question would have been even more traumatic for Paul’s audience than for those of us who have been ingrained with an individualistic call to stand on our own two feet, not give into peer pressure, construct our own beliefs, make our own decisions, and take a stand for what is right even if it means acting alone.[3]

In sum, when Paul declared that the false self was abolished in Christ Jesus, he issued a radical call to, in the words of Victor Furnish:

“embrace a new order of existence that he understood God to have established in Christ… Paul recognized that the religious, ethnic, social, and sexual distinctions remained, but did not understand them as constituting one’s true identity. Although believers are still either Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, their existence has been radically qualified and transformed by the new, definitive reality of their being ‘in Christ’”[4]


[1]Malina, 65

[2]Udo Schnelle, trans. Eugene Boring, Theology of the New Testament, (Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, MI), 2007, 278.

[3]Malina, 55.

[4]Victor Furnish, Moral Teaching of Paul, (Abingdon: Nashville, TN) 2004, 126.