Paul's Ignorance of the Earthly Jesus, Part 2: Claims 1-7
Jesus was born in human fashion, as a Jew, and had a ministry to the Jews. (Galations 4:4)
Yes, Paul does say that Jesus was born. But where was he born? When was he born? Who were his parents? Paul gives us no indication of these things. Paul mentions that he had a mother, but nowhere suggests that he was born a virgin. This legendary element came later as some communities sought to assimilate motifs from rival religions into their own version of Christianity.
Your response is unrelated to what my statement intended to accomplish, which was merely that Paul did say some things about Jesus. Actually you continue to do this for the rest of the post, but I’ll only mention it once.
Jesus was referred to as "Son of God". (1 Cor. 1:9)
On this, Wells notes significantly:
Paul characteristically applies to [Jesus] titles such as Lord and Son of God – titles which already existed within Judaism and also in pagan religions (see [H. Braun, ‘Der Sinn der NT Christology’, Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kirche, 54, pp 350-1) – although Jewish monotheistic influences prevents the earliest Christian writers from calling him God. (Did Jesus exist?, p. 18)
If this is true – that the title “Son of God” was already in use “within Judaism and also in pagan religions” – this is another motif which Christianity borrowed from predecessor religions and applied to Jesus. As such, it has theological, but not historical meaning: it does nothing to specify a historical setting to Paul’s Jesus.
First the usage in Judaism is vastly different from the usage in pagan religions. I’m assuming he’s referring to the passage in Daniel. This phrase in Hebrew is completely different than the pagan concept of gods mating with women to have superhuman offspring. To compare the two is to demonstrate a deficient and surface level understanding of both traditions.
Jesus was a direct descendent of King David. (Romans 1:3)
David was highly venerated by the Jews, as the legends about him in the OT indicate. Also, since Paul was drawing on OT themes as the palate for his portrait of Jesus, linking him to David would hardly be surprising. Again Wells poignantly nails it: "There are many centuries between David and Paul, and Paul gives no indication in which of them Jesus’ earthly life fell." (Did Jesus exist?, p. 18) The reference to Jesus as coming from the seed of David opens the possible timeline for Paul’s Jesus significantly.
So you’re asserting your conclusions on the data and saying Paul just made it up. All I was saying is Paul mentions it….hmm. Seems like the rhetoric just snowballs lately in these posts. Wells poignantly argues from silence, which is hardly unanticipated given his atheist agenda. Sorry I’m having too much fun, I’ll stop. :P
Jesus prayed to God using the term ‘abba’. (Galations 4:6)
When does Paul have his Jesus do this, and where? How does Paul know? Is Paul making a historical reference, or is he making a theological point? The context of the Galatians passage suggests the latter rather than the former. This interpretation is only buttressed by its appearance in Mark, the earliest gospel:
The term “abba” is the Aramaic equivalent of “daddy.” The fact that Jesus would use such a term to address YHWH, the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is absolutely ludicrous in a Jewish context. What evidence does Vermes present?
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
Don’t cite sources to buttress your point if you merely intend to use their assertions and not their arguments.
David went on:
Anyway, this kind of thing is what got him crucified in the first place.
If the Jews were comfortable with it, then they sure reacted funny (well I guess I’m assuming they really reacted and you would merely contend the reaction was staged to prove a point by the author).
Peter's speeches in the early chapters of Acts go down extraordinarily well. He declares that "God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets that his Christ should suffer" (3:18). One might expect Jews to regard this as stretching their scriptures more than a bit. But no, Peter's audience accepted it in their thousands (4:4). This speech, and his previous one at Pentecost, have sufficed to Christianize what has been calculated as one fifth of the then population of Jerusalem. (Can We Trust the New Testament?, pp. 90-91)
It is almost universally supposed that James was the brother of Jesus, and thus that Paul, James, and Cephas alike worshipped a Jesus recently executed at the behest of the Jerusalem authorities as a Messianic pretender, as “king of the Jews” according to the gospels. But if the Jerusalem authorities had found Jesus sufficiently dangerous to have eliminated him, is it plausible that they would have left unmolested, for a generation or more, his close followers in the same city who were implicating themselves in all that he had stood for by proclaiming that his resurrection had vindicated him as God’s Messiah, and that he would shortly return and inaugurate his kingdom? Followers who thus proclaimed his persisting power would surely have been recognized as defiant of the authorities who had so recently killed him, and as much a threat to public order as he himself had been. It seems, then, that we must abandon the premises that James and Cephas (any more than Paul) were closely linked – by blood relationship or by personal acquaintance – with a recently active Jesus who had been found worse than merely troublesome. If, however, they and the community they led in Jerusalem constituted no more than an obscure Jewish sect, worshipping, as Paul did, a distant figure who was probably quite unknown to the authorities of the time, then it is understandable that they were allowed to survive untroubled. M.P. Miller has justly noted that this problem of reconciling the gospels’ view of Jesus’s Passion and execution with “the establishment and survival for more than a generation of a Jerusalem church as a Messianic movement in the same city has hardly ever surfaced, let alone been adequately addressed” ([“’Beginning from Jerusalem’... Re-examining Canon and Consensus,” Journal of Higher Criticism 2 (1995)], p. 7). It is, he adds, a problem which should “make one far less inclined to suppose that the Gospel Passion narratives constitute sources from which one can extract and reconstruct the historical circumstances and reasons for the death of Jesus” (p. 20) (The Jesus Myth, p. 69)
If indeed this isn’t historical (the usage is multiply attested mind you), then some explanation is required.
You focus on Mark, but there are numerous references elsewhere such as Matt 7:21; 10:32-33; 11:27; 12:50; 16:17; 18:10,14; 20:23; 25:34; 26:39, 42,53; Luke 10:22; 22:29; 24:49; plus 22 other occurrences in John.
It should be pointed out here that the early Christians’ use of ‘Father’ was not unprecedented in Jewish literature. Even in the OT, we find references to Yahweh as ‘Father’. See for example Isaiah 63:16, 64:8, which explicitly refer to Yahweh as “our Father” and with which Paul would have undoubtedly been familiar. So referring to God as “Father” was not something new, as it had a long heritage in the Judaism of the day.
Besides, Mark 14:36 allows for no witnesses, since it has Jesus praying in private when he utters the formula, “Abba, Father.” This is literature at this point, not history.
As Darrell Bock points out: “Source levels here include unique Matthean material, unique Lukan material, and some Matthean-Lukan texts (=Q). The expression is multiple attested.” (Jesus According to Scripture, pg 592)
So it looks like this tradition has a much more probable explanation if grounded in historical fact then legend, unless an adequate explanation for the legend being dispersed across all possible source material can be conjured up, err I mean postulated. :P
Jesus expressly forbid divorce. (1 Cor. 7:10)
Does Paul say when, or where, or indicate the circumstances of this delivery? How would Paul know this? That’s right, Paul appeals to revelation as the means by which he learned his gospel. Later writers could easily take such references and put them into a portrait of an earthly Jesus purported by some to be historical. How hard would it be to do this?
This is beginning to become quite tiresome. You are assuming that Paul needs to buttress his doctrinal and theological points with historical context…totally unsupported assertion and the counterfactual has been argued quite convincingly by yours truly. In addition, as you’ve agreed, Paul’s audience was already open to the supernatural so why would he write to them as if they were some skeptic? If you wish for Paul to have such intentions in mind, I will insist that you argue for such an unusual exegetical framework.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.
Another striking feature of Paul’s letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher. Paul is not indifferent to ethical problems; on the contrary, his epistles abound in ethical admonition. But on only one occasion does he appeal to the authority of Jesus to support an ethical teaching which the gospels also represent Jesus as having delivered; and in this instance it is not necessary to suppose thtat Paul believed that the doctrine in question had been taught by the historical (as opposed to the risen) Jesus. (The Historical Evidence For Jesus, p. 23)
Some of the sayings Mark ascribes to Jesus were obviously never spoken by a historical Jesus, but were concocted in a Christian community remote in place in time from the Palestine of AD 30. For instance, in Mk. 10:12 Jesus rules that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery. Such an utterance would have been meaningless in Palestine, where only men could obtain divorce. It is a ruling for the Gentile Christian readers of Mark, which the evangelist put into Jesus’ mouth in order to give it authority. This tendency to anchor later customs and institutions to Jesus’ supposed lifetime played a considerable role in the building up of his biography. (Ibid., p. 13)
In addition, David's comments imply a dichotomy which I have not endorsed, namely: that either Paul would never refer to the historical context in which Jesus gave teachings that he believes he made while in the flesh, or he would be treating the intended audience of his letters, who already accepted supernaturalism, as skeptics. This is quite a stretch. Would Paul necessarily be treating his congregants as skeptics if he made references to Jesus’ earthly activities? I don’t think so. Were the evangelists treating their intended audiences as skeptics when they penned their narratives of the earthly Jesus’ life? Were the later epistle writers who did include references to the earthly Jesus in their writings treating their intended audiences as skeptics? Are preachers today treating their congregations as skeptics when they make references to aspects of Jesus’ life as it is portrayed in the gospels? This seems a rather desperate attempt to deflect the point of the matter.
Jesus taught that ‘preachers’ should be paid for their preaching. (1 Cor. 9:14)
Another feature that Paul got from the OT. He even quotes Deut. 25:4 in I Cor. 9:9. Paul is not giving evidence of familiarity with an earthly Jesus here; he gives no indication of a historical setting on earth where Jesus would have given such instruction, and attributes the teaching to “the Lord,” for Paul, the risen Jesus, not the earthly Jesus. The later writers (i.e., of the gospels) take this reference, which has ecclesiastical significance for Paul, and give it the impression of historical significance by putting the teaching into Jesus’ mouth (cf. Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7).
Oh I get it so Jesus can’t be Jewish and use the Old Testament but Paul clearly does. But you haven’t shown where in the OT this teaching (1 Cor 9:14) can be derived from????????? The later writers (i.e., of the gospels) take this reference, which has ecclesiastical significance for Paul, and provide a more in-depth historical context that illuminate Jesus’ teachings on the subject (cf. Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:7).
What David does not do is show where Paul gives a historical setting for the earthly Jesus issuing this instruction, which is the point in question here. Paul took a teaching from the OT to its logical conclusion for his context as a preacher, and attributes it to "the Lord." Later writers, concocting historical narratives for the earthly Jesus, then took this reference and inserted it into Jesus’ mouth.
Paul's "Jesus taught about the end-time. (1 Thess. 4:15)
Again, Paul is here appealing to “the Lord” (as opposed to Jesus), which signifies for him the risen savior. Nor Paul does indicate a historical context for the teaching he ascribes to “the Lord.” By referring to “we” here (instead of “they” or some other third person reference), Paul indicates (as he does in other passages) his belief that Jesus’ return was coming soon, probably even within his own expected lifetime. No such luck. But this did not prevent later writers from adapting the gloom and doom eschatology and putting it into Jesus’ mouth.
Well you’ve not failed to consistently assert that kurios refers to a risen Jesus as opposed to an earthly Jesus. How exactly does one make such a distinction (hint: pointing out that Paul didn’t tell us doesn’t count). 1 Cor 12:3 “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” And don’t forget about the most important verse of all! Romans 10: 9 “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
But again, notice that David does not recover the point for his side, for he does not attempt to counter my observation (namely that Paul gives no historical context for the eschatological pronouncement here which he attributes to “the Lord” here) by citing a historical context given by Paul in which "Jesus taught about the end-time," which is what he would need to do in order to claim this point on behalf of Paul's knowledge of the earthly Jesus. Again, Paul is not drawing from knowledge of the earthly Jesus, rather he is appealing to knowledge revealed to him by the risen Lord.
I will continue with the remaining claims in my next post.
by Dawson Bethrick
Labels: Christian Legends