Part 2: Paul didn't know a Jesus of Nazareth.
Was Paul's revelation same as other apostles?
Christ's birth, baptism, miracles, resurrection
other details of Jesus' life in Paul?
Paul does not know a Jesus of Nazareth:
Paul also never refers to a Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, nor does he reference any apostle who does. For Paul and the other early Epistle writers Jesus was not a preacher and miracle worker who had a career on earth (e.g., “Now if he had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest ….” (Hebrews 8:1-5). Paul writes that Christ would soon come to earth (seemingly for the first time) in apocalyptic fashion to usher in the new age – “We, by contrast, are citizens of heaven, and from heaven we expect our deliverer to come, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transfigure the body belonging to our humble state, and give it a form like that of his own resplendent body ….” (Philippians 3:20-21). Also, Paul received the description of the Lord’s Supper through revelation, but does not place it in an earthly setting with Jesus and his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. However, he does instruct believers to celebrate the Eucharist to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” [Note: he does not say ‘returns’]. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Paul’s usage of the Greek language gives support to the interpretation that Jesus was crucified in a celestial realm by demonic powers, “the rulers of this age” that ruled the world (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). This is supported by the assertion that “on the cross he discarded the cosmic powers and authorities like a garment; he made a public spectacle of them and led them as captives in his triumphal procession.” (Colossians 2:15). Does that sound like the crucifixion at Calvary? (For an analysis of Christ’s crucifixion from a mythicist's viewpoint, please see Earl Doherty’s article at: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/
Was Paul’s revelation the same as that of the other apostles?
Now it is important to ask if Peter and James, who met with Paul, compared their experiences of Jesus to Paul’s revelation of the risen Christ. One would logically assume so. And if so, there must have been agreement between Paul’s revelation and theirs, for Paul claims that he is as true an apostle as the others by virtue of his revelatory experiences (1 Corinthians 9:1; Galatians 2:6-9). In the Bible’s first written account of witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, Paul relates in his Letter 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, that he is the last to whom the risen Jesus appeared and consequently he is an apostle because of this revelation. Note that Paul’s summary of resurrection appearances is irreconcilable with the Gospel accounts - no Gospel says that the risen Jesus first appeared to Peter and then to the twelve (rather than 11), or to 500 of the brothers and then to James. (For a discussion on the post resurrection appearances of Jesus, see my article at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/symes01.htm .)
Moreover, there must have been concurrence on other faith issues during Paul’s first visit with the other apostles (Paul never uses the term “disciples”), for Paul writes that he was praised by the congregations in Judea for “preaching the good news of the faith which he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:21-23). And would Peter and James have accepted Paul’s view that Jesus was divine from the beginning of time, an emanation of God “bearing the human likeness, revealed in human shape ….(Philippians 2:6-11), if their revelation had not been the same as his? If Jesus had a life on earth why would they not have described it to Paul? Yet Paul’s writings indicate that he remains ignorant of an historical Jesus. And certainly Paul would not tolerate those who disagreed with his gospel of Christ, deeming them to be outcasts (e.g. Galatians 1:8-9). In light of this, one has to ask if the Christian cult first began in Jerusalem under the leadership of the “three pillars”, namely Peter, James and John (Galatians 2:9) who were part of the twelve to whom a spiritual and risen Christ first appeared by means of revelation (1 Corinthians 15:1-7), but was not witnessed by them as a god-man who ministered on Earth.
If Jesus was the Messiah who had a life on earth, it is remarkable that the early Epistles give no details about this extraordinary life. The following examples highlight crucial omissions from his historical life in the first written records of Christianity:
Where is Christ’s miraculous birth in Paul’s Epistles?
For example, according to Acts 2: 22, Jesus was “approved of God among you by miracles, portents and signs …”, and according to Paul, apostles were known by the same marvels (2 Corinthians 12:12). Why then does Paul not mention any oral tradition of Jesus’ supposed virgin birth as later related in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, as proof of his divinity? He does not even cite his mother’s name, or Jesus’ birthplace and the angel proclaiming to the shepherds his arrival on earth. Are these portents and miracles so insignificant that they would not naturally be referred to by Paul if they really happened? Instead Paul refers to Christ’s birth as “made (born) of a woman, made under the law” (Galatians 4:4) to show Jews that Jesus was their redeemer. (Note that the Greek word he uses is “ginomai” meaning “born” in the sense of “made, became”, which he uses elsewhere but always in reference to Christ (e.g. Romans 1:3) or to Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45) because Christ, like Adam the first human, could not be born, but was created/made by God. “Made/born of a woman” signifies allegorically that Christ’s divinity assumed a human likeness. The normal word for born used elsewhere in the epistles and Gospels is “gennaδ ” which Paul uses a few verses later in relation to a son of Abraham (Galatians 4:23)). For Paul, Christ’s incarnation was other-worldly, not a human birth on earth, or a virgin birth. According to Paul, Jesus only had to assume human nature in the heavenly sphere to accomplish his mission (Philippians 2:6-9). (For information on the contradictory Gospelaccounts of Jesus’ birth, please see my article at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/myths-about-jesus-birth.htm ).
Why are Jesus’ baptism and miracles missing in Paul’s epistles?
And why does Paul not mention Jesus’ baptism by John and the Spirit descending on Jesus and the voice from Heaven announcing that Jesus is God’s beloved son (Mark 1: 2-11)? This is a remarkable omission, given that baptism was for Paul a key sacrament that he references often in his writings (e.g. Romans 6:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12: 12-13; Galatians 3:26-29).
Paul writes that Jews demand miracles and the Greeks wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:22). Why then does Paul not relate the many healing and nature miracles of Jesus to make the point about his divinity? (For a discussion of the origins and veracity of the miracles of Jesus, please see my article at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/symes04 ). And why not cite from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (e.g. blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers, etc. in Matthew 5:1-10) or his parables (e.g. the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32) for the wisdom that the Greeks sought? Is it credible that if Paul knew of these details through oral tradition that he would not once refer to any of Jesus’ miracles and moral teachings?
Why does Paul not know details about what happened at the crucifixion?
Paul claimed he “preached Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and a folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Why, in his fifteen references to the crucifixion in his authentic Epistles, did Paul not give any context or details of the historical trial and crucifixion in support of his sacrificial theology? There is not a word about: Judas, the charge that Jesus was a seditious criminal, Pontius Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Calvary, Jesus’ last words, the midday darkness, earthquakes, the witnesses at the foot of the cross, or the women going to the empty tomb – in other words, all the Gospels’“historical” events that gave rise to the new religion. If Paul and the other early authors had no record of Christ’s crucifixion in an earthly setting, where did they think it took place? Paul says it is by the means of revelation and Scripture that his gospel is preached (Romans 16:25-26). Therefore, we can only surmise that it was revealed to Paul that Jesus’ crucifixion took place in a celestial sphere rather than on earth (i.e. as discussed above).
The most plausible reason that Paul’s Christ lacks details of the human qualities, deeds and sayings of the Jesus of the Gospels is that memories and oral traditions of this Jesus of Nazareth did not exist in Paul’s time. The Gospel writers had yet to invent these details decades later by mostly turning to the Old Testament Scriptures for inspiration; and this inventive trend continued on – more than three dozen gospels and epistles promoting various histories and interpretations of Jesus Christ were created in the decades following the composition of the four canonical Gospels, but they never made it into the New Testament.
Rationalizations for why Paul mentions so few biographical details about Jesus:
Paul’s writings deal with the means of salvation, personal faith and morality. A common rationalization by Christian apologists for Paul’s silence about an historical Christ in his writings is that he was dealing mostly with theological issues and divisions among early believers rather than preaching the gospel to the uninitiated (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:10-12). Nevertheless, these faith disagreements among believers were based on different interpretations about Christ, and in order to clarify, Paul had to discuss the nature and role of Christ. However, in explaining Christ’s mission he still does not place Jesus in an historical earthly setting or provide details of his life and teachings in order to explain beliefs (e.g. how the dead are resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:35-57)).
It is also argued that Paul was disinterested in the historical Jesus as described in the Gospels because his audiences already knew the story of Jesus’ life and teachings.
However, what new or recent converts knew about Jesus’ life beforehand, especially when living in far off Gentile lands, is speculative (many were former idolaters, e.g. 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 Corinthians 12:2). In Paul’s missions to the Gentiles and Hellenic Jews, it is more likely that he had to preach from scratch to non-believers (e.g. Romans 10:14) or to those who had only hearsay or incomplete information about the Christ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; 15: 2-19) and who would want more in-depth knowledge about the new Savior. The question still remains - why does Paul not provide such information in any detail?
Is it credible that new congregations knew and remembered all the details of the religion’s founder and never had to query Paul about what Jesus said or did about an issue of faith important to them? Would Paul not have to expand and confirm in writing his specific oral responses to these questions about an historical Jesus? This rationalization about a full, memorized oral history is really speculation as to the depth of knowledge new converts had about Jesus, and the uniformity of preaching of the first missionaries about Jesus’ ministry on earth. If one believes that successive congregations knew by heart all the historical details about Jesus, then why did this oral faith tradition not suffice for the Gospel authors too? Why were written accounts of Jesus’ earthly life not needed for the 30 years that Paul and his fellow missionaries preached, but then ten years after Paul’s death, new written histories of Jesus were needed over the three decade period it took to write the four Gospels?
Originally posted: 2014-NOV-12
Last updated 2014-NOV-12
Author: R.C. Symes