Sunday, July 29, 2007

Jesus and Paul

Jesus Tradition in Paul
David B. Capes

A version of this essay will appear in the upcoming Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus, ed. Craig A. Evans (Routledge Press). 

In the NT letters attributed to Paul, the person and work of Christ are central. Paul’s primary interests, as evidenced in his letters, are the cross and resurrection of Jesus (e.g., 1 Cor 1:18; 2:2; 15:3-8). Only a few references to the sayings and activities of Jesus prior to his crucifixion appear. In this regard the Pauline corpus is not unlike other NT letters, the Acts of the Apostles and the Apocalypse. These too contain few quotations of or allusions to Jesus’ teachings and deeds during his earthly ministry. Primarily, the traditions associated with Jesus’ preaching, healing and disciple-making are recorded in the Gospels.

The centrality of the cross and resurrection plus the lack of known Jesus traditions in his letters have led interpreters to wide-ranging conclusions. First, some scholars think Paul had limited information regarding the earthly Jesus. Since he was not an eyewitness and since he had limited access to those who knew Christ, his letters could not contain much in regard to Jesus’ sayings, miracles, activities, etc. Those who hold this position situate Paul outside the first circle of disciples and emphasize that Paul’s access to the Jesus tradition came mainly through the Hellenistic communities. Second, others conclude that Paul had limited interest in the Jesus of history. Paul’s own faith in Christ has been formed primarily through powerful religious experiences of the risen Lord (Gal 1:11-17; 2 Cor 3:18—4:5; 12:1-10; Phil 3:3-16; cf. Acts 9:1-9). Accordingly, Paul’s focus lies in the crucified, exalted and coming Christ; what the earthly Jesus may have said or done holds limited relevance to him. Third, others point out that too much is read into Paul’s silence on the Jesus tradition, especially in light of a similar silence in the other NT letters. They argue that the paucity of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters does not mean that he had no access to or only limited interest in the earthly Jesus. According to these interpreters, there are other, more plausible explanations for the few references. We do not know, for example, what Paul may or may not have preached during his initial mission to any given city. Likewise, we do not know whether he viewed the letter genre generally as an appropriate vehicle for transmitting the Jesus material. Given the extent of orality in Mediterranean culture, it may well be that leaders like Paul preferred to preach Jesus rather than write about him. This discussion, known as the “Jesus-Paul debate”, has occupied scholarly interest since the 19th century. Nevertheless, Paul’s letters do contain traditional materials that provide insight into the gospel Paul preached and the churches he established.


Paul’s Access to the Jesus Tradition

Paul’s access to the Jesus tradition came from several sources. First, prior to his conversion-call to be the apostle to the Gentiles, Paul persecuted the followers of Jesus and fought to stop the movement (Gal 1:11-14). As one “zealous for the traditions of his fathers,” Paul’s persecution of Jesus’ immediate followers had some basis in beliefs and practices that went back to Jesus himself. While Paul never explains his pre-conversion opposition to the Jesus movement, he does report that the idea of a crucified Messiah is offensive to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23). Claims to Christ’s divinity and religious devotion directed to him could have been construed as blasphemy. Second, Paul describes his transformation in language of mystical revelations (e.g., Gal 1:15-17; 2 Cor 12:1-6). These revelations caused him to reevaluate his understanding of Jesus and to join the community he had previously tried to destroy. In connecting with Jesus’ followers, the apostle entered into the stream of tradition and reinterpreted his past and present experience in light of the beliefs and values of the Christian community. He received teachings and then went on to transmit them to various churches in his letters. It is taken for granted that his missionary preaching would have also contained references to these early Jesus traditions. Finally, in a rare autobiographical moment Paul related an experience he had three years after his conversion-call. He traveled to Jerusalem to receive information from Peter (Gal 1:18) and for about 15 days he had immediate, personal contact with one of the twelve. In subsequent visits he subjected his gospel to the scrutiny of the “pillar apostles” in Jerusalem and received their approval to carry the gospel to the Gentiles (Gal 2:1-9).


Paul’s Use of the Jesus Tradition

Scholars disagree regarding the extent of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters. Some allow only a few examples. Others argue that hundreds of allusions to traditional materials occur in the authentic letters. Likely the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Paul is aware of traditions regarding Jesus’ Jewishness (Gal 4:4), his royal lineage (Rom 1:3-4), and his brother James (Gal 1:19). Beyond these bare facts there are other traditional elements.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Employing the language of tradition (paredōka = “I delivered”; parelabon = “I received”), Paul passed on to the Corinthians the centrality of Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul inherited this tradition from the earliest churches that had already assigned atoning significance (“for our sins”) to his crucifixion. Furthermore, these crucial events were understood by these early Jewish believers as being “according to the scriptures.” Soon after the crucifixion the followers of Jesus had searched the Hebrew Bible to comprehend these fateful events in God’s saving history. They found that not only had these events not contradicted scripture but that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection had formed a fitting climax to the covenant story. Paul also received accounts of resurrection appearances to Peter, James (the brother of Jesus) and “the twelve.” According to both intra- and extra-canonical gospels, these disciples figure prominently in the Jesus tradition. Furthermore, the centrality of the cross and resurrection parallel other early Christian writings including the Gospels where Jesus’ passion comprises the central act of the story.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26. The earliest account of “the Lord’s supper” is recorded in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians. Paul “received” (parelabon) from the Lord this event that finds a prominent place in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 14:22-24; Matt 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20). Since Paul used traditional language, we may rule out that he received this as a direct revelation. Instead we should likely understand this in two ways: (a) the account goes back to an event in the life of the earthly Jesus and (b) his interpretation of the supper is derived “from the Lord” by means of revelation (11:26). The details of Paul’s account of the supper correspond closely to the NT Gospels. Paul knows that it took place at night, that Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to his disciples. The “words of institution” bear close verbal affinity with the Gospels as well. The memorial atmosphere of the meal corresponds to the Lukan account.

Romans 8:15-17; Galatians 4:6-7. Paul’s address to God as “Abba! Father!” likely goes back to Jesus. The similarities in Romans and Galatians suggest that Paul is relying on traditional materials. Both passages indicate that the “Abba! Father!” (a) characterizes Christian prayer; (b) indicates the Spirit’s work; (c) demonstrates that believers possess a new status as “sons” and “heirs.” The presence of this Aramaic address to God in Greek-speaking churches is evidence of both its antiquity and authenticity within the Jesus tradition. “Abba” is not a common prayer-address at the time and so it likely reflects Jesus’ own prayer practice and teaching.

Words of the Lord. Most scholars allow that some of Paul’s ethical instructions derive from the sayings (logia) of Jesus. Whether Paul had access to oral traditions or a sayings collection, as scholars reconstruct in “Q,” we do not know. Nevertheless, there are parallels between some of the logia found in the Gospels and what we find in Paul’s paraenesis. In 1 Cor 7:10, for example, Paul instructs the married not to separate and, if they do, not to marry. He indicates these teachings come from “the Lord” and he contrasts them with his own counsel (7:12). The words of the Lord for him carry authority beyond his own. Likely, Paul refers here to the dominical teaching later codified in Mark 10:11-12 (cf. Matt 5:32). Similarly, Paul recalls the Lord’s command that permits financial support for those who preach the gospel. This command is similar to the logia in Luke 10:7: “for the worker is worthy of his wage.”

Allusions to Jesus’ sayings occur in Paul’s letters without referring to them as words or commands of the Lord. For example, in writing of love’s supremacy (1 Cor 13:2) Paul echoes Jesus’ teaching that faith can move mountains (Matt 17:20). Paul instructs the Romans to bless and not curse those who persecute them (Rom 12:14). This has clear resonance with Jesus’ teaching regarding love of enemies (Luke 6:27-28 and Matt 5:44). Paul’s reference to the day of the Lord coming as a thief in the night (1 Thess 5:2, 4) may well originate with Jesus’ teachings regarding the unknown day and hour when the Son of Man returns (Matt 24:43; Luke 12:39). Later in that same letter Paul’s admonition for the Thessalonians to live at peace with each other (1 Thess 5:13) finds a clear parallel in Jesus’ call to “live in peace with one another” (Mark 9:50). Other, possible examples include:

Paul and the Gospels. The following list is meant to be instructive not exhaustive.

Rom 12:17, 21 = Luke 6:27-36; Matt 5:38-48

Rom 13:7 = Mark 12:13-17

Rom 13:8-10 = Mark 12:18-34; Matt 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28

Rom 14:14 = Mark 7:15; Matt 15;11

1 Thess 5:3 = Luke 12:39ff.; 21:34

1 Thess 5:6 = Mark 13:37; Matt 24:42; Luke 21:34, 36

The Kingdom of God. The Gospel traditions portray Jesus as one who proclaims the presence and coming of “the kingdom of God” (alternatively, “the kingdom of heaven”). Outside the Gospels Paul employs kingdom language more than any other NT writer. The apostle describes the kingdom as consisting of justice (righteousness), peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). He urges the Thessalonians to walk worthy of God who is calling them into his kingdom and glory (1 Thess 2:12). The gospel Paul preaches is, in fact, a word about the kingdom (1 Thess 2:9-13). He warns the Corinthians that the kingdom is more than fine words and rhetoric; it consists of power (1 Cor 4:20). The unrighteous and immoral, Paul writes, will not “inherit” the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9; Gal 5:21; cf. Eph 5:5) neither will flesh and blood (1 Cor 15:50). The kingdom figures ultimately in Paul’s understanding of the eschaton. Following the parousia, the Son will deliver the kingdom over to God the Father after the subjection of all the powers to the Son so that “God may be all in all” (1 Cor 5:20-28). In Col 1:12-13 Paul gives thanks to God for delivering believers from the domain of darkness and transferring them into the kingdom of his beloved Son. For Paul, the rule of God is realized in the Lordship of Christ, who is the source of forgiveness and redemption. As in the Gospels, there is an “already-not yet” aspect to Paul’s teaching of the kingdom. Likely Paul’s ideas about the kingdom originate in the Jesus tradition. Still the language of the kingdom is not as common in the letters as it is in the Gospels. This has caused some scholars to question whether Paul’s essential message is congruent with Jesus’ teaching. Others find similarity in Paul’s teaching of the Spirit. In the Gospels God’s rule is manifest through Jesus by the Spirit (Matt 12:28; cf. Luke 11:20). For Paul God’s rule is manifest now in the Spirit of God whom he also calls “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom 8:9; 14:17). The Spirit’s powerful presence constitutes a new reality or new creation (2 Cor 5:17) that for the apostle may well correlate with the presence of the kingdom (1 Cor 6:9-11; Gal 4:6-7).

The Law of Christ. Many scholars believe that when Paul speaks of “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2) he had in mind Jesus’ teaching on the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-34 and par.). The command to love God and love one’s neighbor originated in the Hebrew scripture (Deut 6:6-8; Lev 19:18) and yet became “the law of Christ” through the weight of his teaching and example. Earlier in the letter Paul urged the Galatians to pursue freedom through service, acknowledging that the entire Law is fulfilled in loving one’s neighbor (Gal 5:13-14; Lev 19:18; cf Rom 13:8-10). Such service clearly includes bearing one another’s burden. It follows that “the law of Christ” may refer to Christ’s example as one who fulfills the law (Matt 5:17-20).

Imitation of Christ. In Paul’s day the imitation of a worthy person was an important strategy in moral formation. On a number of occasions we find Paul appealing to the example of Christ and urging imitation. For example, he urges the Philippians to have the mind of Christ in humility and service (Phil 2:5-11). He instructs the Romans to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and avoid self-gratification (Rom 13:14). In the midst of Jewish-Gentile discord in the Roman church, Paul tells them to welcome each other as Christ has welcomed you (Rom 15:7). The apostle even urges the Corinthians to imitate him since he imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1). Admonitions to imitate Christ depend ultimately on having authentic traditions regarding Christ’s life. When Paul encourages the Romans to strive to please their neighbors, he appeals to Christ’s example: “for Christ did not seek to please himself” (Rom 15:3). For Paul, Jesus’ willingness to go to the cross may have been in view, however, this does not preclude other accounts from Jesus’ life wherein he gave himself for others.

The Twelve. The earliest historical reference to “the twelve” is found in 1 Cor 15:3-8. Paul recounts the tradition that the risen Jesus appeared to an inner circle of disciples called “the twelve.” He also recognizes Peter’s (Cephas’) special role in the Jerusalem church (along with John; Gal 1:18; 2:9). This is consistent with the Gospel tradition where (a) Jesus is concerned primarily with restoring Israel (see, e.g., Matt 10:6; “go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”), (b) he chooses “the twelve” by a prophetic act that reconstitutes Israel, and (c) he appoints Peter to a special leadership role in the new movement (e.g., Matt 16:13-20). Paul reflects similar priorities in his own ministry. Although the risen Christ appoints Paul the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal 1:16; 2:7-10), he takes the gospel first to Jews (Rom 1:16). Furthermore, recent scholarly inquiry into the theology of Romans demonstrates that Romans 9-11 is crucial to the letter. In these chapters Paul is occupied with the relationship of Israel to the Gentiles now that the Messiah has come. Employing the image of an olive tree, he portrays God’s inclusion of the nations into Israel through faith. He is even able to describe the church of believing Jews and Gentiles as “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).

In the Gentile mission the relationship of Jews to Gentiles at the common table constitutes a fundamental problem. In Antioch Paul opposes Peter publicly for his hypocrisy when he withdraws from fellowship with the Gentiles. Paul’s description of Gentiles as “sinners” (Gal 2:15) may well recall that opponents charged Jesus with being a friend of sinners (e.g., Mark 3:13-17; Luke 15). That Jesus is known to have welcomed sinners may have inspired Paul to welcome Gentiles and advocate mutual welcoming among his churches (Romans 14-15).


Conclusion

The centrality of the cross and resurrection plus the lack of Jesus tradition in Paul’s letters has given risen to the Jesus-Paul debate, a question that has occupied scholars since the nineteenth century. Essentially, the question may be expressed this way: what is the relationship between Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God and Paul’s gospel of the crucified and risen Christ. On one end of the spectrum, some affirm that Paul’s gospel of the Son of God (e.g., Rom 1:3-4) represents a significant departure from Jesus’ imminent announcement of the Kingdom. On the opposite end, others deny the claim and assert that Paul’s gospel is a legitimate development of the Kingdom message of Jesus. While not denying that differences do exist between them, they are explained as necessitated by (a) the demands of the Gentile mission and (b) the new situation created by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

At one time it was scholarly commonplace to interpret 2 Cor 5:16 as evidence that Paul had little interest in the life of Jesus. It is now widely recognized that the phrase kata sarka (“according to the flesh”) is an adverbial modifier not a reference to the earthly life of the Messiah. Paul’s point is to emphasize that the new creation inaugurated by the cross and resurrection has altered his perspective on everyone, especially the Messiah.

The classic statement of the former position was made by William Wrede in his book, Paul (1904). Wrede claimed that Paul, as the second founder of Christianity, exercised greater influence than Jesus over what the movement would later become. Unfortunately, according to Wrede, Paul’s religion elevated the Christ to divine status and forced the prophetic voice of Jesus into an apocalyptic framework foreign to the Nazarene carpenter. In that sense, the sublime piety of Jesus is lost inside of a complex system where Christ is an object of full religious devotion. A half century later Rudolph Bultmann affirmed many of Wrede’s conclusions and interpreted 2 Cor 5:16 (“even if we knew Christ from a human perspective (kata sarka), we know him in that way no longer”) as Paul’s self-confessed evidence that he had little interest in Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. While Bultmann has been very influential in the debate, few interpreters today agree with Bultmann’s reading. The phrase kata sarka most certainly refers to the verb (“to know”) and not the noun (“the Christ”). Therefore, Paul’s point is to emphasize that the new creation inaugurated by the cross and resurrection has altered his perspective on everyone, especially the Christ.

Bibliography

Allison, Dale C. “The Pauline Epistles and the Synoptic Gospels: The Pattern of the Parallels,” NTS 28 (1982), 1-32.

Bultmann, Rudolph. “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus.” In The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ: Essays on the New Question of the Historical Jesus, ed Carl E. Bratten and Roy A. Harrisville. New York: Abingdon, 1964.

Davies, W. D. Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980.

Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul. Oxford: Blackwell, 1971.

Dunn, James D. G. Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

Ellis, E. Earle. The Making of the New Testament Documents. Leiden: Brill Academic, 2002.

Furnish, Victor Paul. “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 47 (1965) 343.

Hengel, Martin. Between Jesus and Paul. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983.

Machen, J. Gresham. The Origin of Paul’s Religion. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947.

Wedderburn, A. J. M. and C. Wolff, ed. Paul and Jesus. JSNTSS 37; Sheffield: JSOT, 1989.

Wenham, David. Paul and Jesus: The True Story. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Wenham, David. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.

William Wrede. Paul. London: Philip Green, 1907.

37 comments:

brad said...

I noticed that there is no mention of the "New Paul" theory. I would think that Paul's theology on justification would play a roll in the overall discussion. I'm deeply interested in Paul's view of faith by law in Judaism versus faith in Christ as far as salvific purposes are concerned...namely as seen in Rom 10.

Thanks
Brad Murrill

brad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David B. Capes said...

We will certainly be working through the New Perspective on Paul (which is equally a new perspective on Judaism and Jesus as a Jew) during the course. This article was limited to the question: to what extent does Paul know about the teaching, message and life of the historical Jesus?

Justification is an important metaphor for salvation in Paul's theology. We'll certainly look into it. Romans 10 will also figure prominently in our discussion. Stay tuned.

Steven Carr said...

'These too contain few quotations of or allusions to Jesus’ teachings and deeds during his earthly ministry.'


Paul's letters are like the Acts of the Apostles in containing few details of the life of Jesus?

Apart from Jesus himself appearing in Acts?

I thought G.A.Wells had nailed the claim that Acts of the Apostles contains few allusions to Jesus's deeds during his earthly ministry.

Try Acts 10, where a few verses tell us more about Jesus of Nazareth, than the whole of Paul's letters.

Mentions of Judea, Galilee, Jerusalem, miracles, John the Baptist, and even the fact that Peter saw some of things things.

All missing from Paul, and hardly a 'few allusions'

Geoff Hudson said...

Well yes 'Paul' knew of (received)the Jesus tradition from the risen Jesus himself. (Gal. 1.12). But 'receive' is strange language to use about a gospel message. I might have expected something like 'knew of' or 'learned about' or 'heard about'. But 'received' is more appropriate for the language of the Spirit. Thus the writer may have originally written:'I did not receive the Spirit from any man' - as for example, when the spirit of Elijah was put on Elisha. The writer may have continued: 'rather I received it from God', not 'rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ'.

Ross said...

Very interesting and helpful.

Also interesting is that you do not cite N T Wright. I may be seeing something that does not exist, but in Chris Van Landingham's book on Paul, he also omits all reference to N T Wright.

Is this a coincidence or a conspiracy?

Have you all decided that the best way to get rid of him is to ignore him?

David B. Capes said...

Ross,
I'm a great fan of N. T. Wright and his work. So no slight intended by leaving him out of this essay. I'm sure he's written somewhere on the Jesus-Paul question. I just didn't reference him here. See my various published essays where I reference him.
dbc

David B. Capes said...

Geoff commented on the "receiving" and "handing on" passages (e.g., 1 Corinthians). That language is actually technical terminology referring to the transmission and reception of tradition. We see it in Judaism at the time and later rabbinic Judaism. It's probably a little easier to spot in Hebrew than Greek or English. It doesn't refer here to the receiving of a vision. Generally, visionary experiences involve words of "seeing" (obviously in Greek).

David B. Capes said...

Steve makes an interesting point.
Acts is, of course, different than a letter isn't it? In his Gospel Luke has demonstrated already that he knows Jesus tradition. Acts does contain more Jesus tradition than Paul's letters but it is historiography (ancient, religious historiography) and not a letter. But if all you had was Acts, what could you say regarding the earthly life of Jesus? I've never chased that out, but my sense is that we'd have huge gaps in our knowledge.

Barbara said...

David,
As I re-read this article, I was reminded of the discussion we had in class and from our reading that Paul was writing to particular churches that were dealing with particular situations. Perhaps the details of Jesus' earthly life didn't seem to address those issues as much as the message of power and reconciliation and new life that Paul proclaimed as he pointed to the cross and resurrection. Also, I suppose we will never know Paul's intentions in this life time, but his gospel of the crucified and risen Lord is intricately related to Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God in at least the sense that Jesus inaugurated that Kingdom...
Barbara

David B. Capes said...

Barbara,
Several good thoughts here. Paul's letters are "occasional", aren't they? So they speak most completely to the situation of the letter as perceived by Paul and his response.

You're correct to say that we can't know fully his intentions or purposes from his letters but we can know what he says about certain matters. From there were can reconstruct purpose, intentions, etc. For example, it is clear from Romans that Paul intended to go to Spain with the gospel. We're not sure he made it, but that appears to be his intention.

The crux of the matter is how do you relate Paul's gospel about Christ, the Liberating King and Messaiah, to Jesus' teaching about the Kingdom of God. Jesus pointed people to the Kingdom. Paul pointed people to Jesus. As Bultmann said, "the proclaimer becomes the proclaimed." One of the church fathers--Origen--I think spoke of Jesus as "the presence of the Kingdom." See Matt 12:28 where the actions of Jesus are certainly related to the manifestation of the kingdom. So there is clearly a connection in my mind to the actions/words of Jesus and the kingdom.

dbc

Paul said...

I am compelled by the range of allusions to Jesus' sayings which you catalog in the sections "Words of the Lord" and "Paul and the Gospels." My initial response was skeptical--why didn't Paul cite Jesus (or whatever document may have been his source) more explicitly? This may have brought even more authority to his arguments. Then I realized that we speak and write this way, weaving scriptural language into our sentences without quoting directly. When talking to fellow believers, the allusions are often taken for granted. Reading these passages side by side (which space prevented in your article), the similarities are most compelling. It appears to me that Paul had to have some access to Jesus tradition in order to weave Jesus' thought into his letters.

Paul said...

I think Barbara's point about the situational purposes of each unique letter is key. Most authors can write an entire book about one subject, but it may not encapsulate all of their thought & theology. Obviously we are trying to piece Paul's theology together from his letters, which are both occasional and relatively short (vs. our modern books). Of course it would be nice to have more direct connection points, but Paul's letters were written with different intentions (and to different audiences) than Jesus' teachings. The argument from silence which would separate Paul & Jesus does not hold water for me.

David B. Capes said...

Thanks, Paul. Skepticism can be a healthy thing. It is the beginning of critical thinking.

It may not have occurred to Paul that letters are an appropriate genre for transmitting Jesus' sayings. You are right to use an analogy. The best analogies for Paul--speaking now as a historian--would be from Paul's own day. But lacking that, we might notice that we have a healthy interest in the Jesus of history and yet we don't quote them constantly in either oral or written form. We take them for granted. They become the presuppositions from which we as believers work. Put another way, they are the foundation as Paul says in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians. But notice, foundations are all but invisible. What is seen is everything built on the foundation. In our analogy, that means Paul's letters. I think it was Beker who described the Jesus material as the deep structures from which Paul built his gospel, letters and his churches.

Billi said...

When Paul encountered the risen Jesus, he understood that redemption was achieved through His death and resurrection. This epiphany was so powerful that it informed Paul’s message. If he neglected to retell the narrative of the earthly Jesus and his teaching of the Kingdom, it was not due to a lack of knowledge of the Jesus tradition, as your essay shows. We can’t fault Paul for not writing another gospel. Paul describes the Kingdom much as the prophets did; it would be characterized by justice, peace, and joy in the spirit (Rom. 14:17). Paul’s urging the imitation of Christ indicates his familiarity with the life and teachings of Jesus.

Billi said...

When Paul encountered the risen Jesus, he understood that redemption was achieved through His death and resurrection. This epiphany was so powerful that it informed Paul’s message. If he neglected to retell the narrative of the earthly Jesus and his teaching of the Kingdom, it was not due to a lack of knowledge of the Jesus tradition, as your essay shows. We can’t fault Paul for not writing another gospel. Paul describes the Kingdom much as the prophets did; it would be characterized by justice, peace, and joy in the spirit (Rom. 14:17). Paul’s urging the imitation of Christ indicates his familiarity with the life and teachings of Jesus.

Luke Gordon said...

I like where Paul and Barbara are going.

The authors of the Gospels wrote with a specific purpose. They were giving an orderly account of the life of Jesus (Luke 1:1-4). As, Paul Randall points out, Paul's letters were occasional and intended to give pastoral counsel and instruction to specifics situations in the churches.

Luke Gordon said...

Though Paul does not use the words Kingdom of God (or heaven) as many times as the gospel writters, I believe all of Paul's epistles give us insight into Kingdom of God living. Paul met the glorified and risen Lord. It is only appropriate that Paul's words portray Jesus through a paradigm of exaltation.
Jesus' imminent announcement of the Kingdom of God in the Gospels anticipates the power and victory that will be received upon His death and resurrection (Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:3-4) Paul's reliance on the Spirit and emphasis on walking in the Spirit points us to Kingdom living. Gorman does us great good in highlighting how cruciformity is an underlying theme in Paul's writings which reinterprets Paul's understanding of faith, hope, love, and humility. These fruits of the Spirit are essential to living out the Kingdom life that Jesus proclaims in the gospels.

brad said...

I want to address this in the order that it was discussed in second paragraph of the article. On the first point, I would disagree with those scholars who state that Paul had limited knowledge to the life and sayings of Jesus. IN Acts 9 we see that Paul spent time with the disciples in Damascus. After that, he spent time with the apostles in Jerusalem. I find it EXTREMELY hard to believe that Paul would NOT have been inundated with the stories of the living Jesus while with them. In fact, I would argue that most likely, given the nature of the oral tradition in Judaism, he would have memorized the stories and saying of Jesus while staying with them. In the second point, it is argued that he would have limited interest in the Jesus of history. Again, I would disagree. The Jesus of history and the resurrected Jesus is one continuous story, not two parts as these critics seem to suggest. The risen Lord IS the APEX of the story, not just for Paul but for all of humanity. For the same reason that we do not focus on what Jesus said or did when he was 7, 14, or 17 years old. We do not have this information and for the most part, we do not care! Would it be helpful, interesting, and fun to read? Absolutely, but it is hardly necessary. I do agree with the third point that too much is being read into Paul's silence. Paul is writing these letters (except Romans) to communities he has already visited. They know the Jesus of history. These are the stories that were told and told over again, repeated until memorized. To go over what is already done is not needed in a letter who's purpose is other than telling this story. He has a different purpose in these letters and I think Paul felt retelling the Gospel accounts was simply not necessary.

brad said...

I am going to agree with the comments made as to the purpose and intentionality of the letters. I think I also stated this in my original post. I really like what Luke posted:

"Though Paul does not use the words Kingdom of God (or heaven) as many times as the gospel writters, I believe all of Paul's epistles give us insight into Kingdom of God living."

This WAS Paul's mission. He in essence says watch me in his letters. He was taking the life of Jesus and living it out in his time through the power of the risen Lord. He cites his own living examples of Kingdom of God living.

francisco G said...

In the article of this Blog you say "As in the Gospels, there is an “already-not yet” aspect to Paul’s teaching of the kingdom. Likely Paul’s ideas about the kingdom originate in the Jesus tradition. Still the language of the kingdom is not as common in the letters as it is in the Gospels."
I believe that the key factor for Paul’s lack of common kingdom language in his letters is the same reason why other authors in the Bible didn’t do it either, the Kingdom of God is at work, is a work in progress and a common language is not complete it’s still being worked. I came to this conclusion after reading references about the kingdom outside the Pauline letters trying to find what the rest of the authors mentioned. For example, there is a reference on the Luke-Acts about the kingdom (Act 1:3) and it implies that not even the disciples had a clear idea of what the fullness of the Kingdom of God really meant but they knew Jesus came to enact it . James 2:5 speaks of it as something achievable only by those who love God, a practical love maybe just like Jesus saying ‘love your neighbor’, but James never said those exact words even when we know that there is a lot of the sermon of the mount sequence in the book of James. The language of Hebrews 12:22 presents a cosmic representation of the kingdom that is timeless but reachable during a worship service, the kingdom then becomes the place to be but also the source of strength. So what is timeless has a moment of encounter and what is cosmic becomes real in the individual with God’s presence, may be just like Jesus saying, “the kingdom of God is at hand’ and at the same time ‘no one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’ Luke 9:59. The way I see it I see a lot of the sequel of Jesus message of the Kingdom in all scripture. That is why to me is like neither of the writers got it, or all of them did, maybe we don’t need to look for a common language, just actions in accordance to the resurrected Christ who has the Kingdom of God in his hands (1 Corinthians 15:24,Luke 22:29;23:42) and is owner of the Kingdom.

Betsy said...

I would have to argue that Paul had limited information regarding Jesus. From his perspective as a Pharisee, he reacted violently to what he perceived in the sayings, activities, deeds of Jesus and effects on persons as being threatening to Judaism. Judasim, the foundation of Hebrew identity,of his own identity, was being challenged in it's way of being human in relation to God. It was threatening to him because it meant that everything he had invested his whole self and life in might not be true. If it weren't true, what were the implications for Israel's identity and for his own? He fought zealously to maintain the integrity of his own people as well as himself by persecuting Jewish Christians. However, it was precisely because of these conflicts that existed prior to the Damascus road experience, that the vision of the risen Christ was so transforming. God had been working in the context of Paul's whole life in order to use him for the purpose for which he was created. I imagine that the controversy stirred up by Jesus works and teachings and subsequent convictions that dramatically changed lives of those he touched, evoked further investigation for a mind like Paul's. Initially, however, he was coming from the perspective of a different sort of Messiah, including one that would not be crucified. Perhaps many events leading up to the Damascus experience were making subtle impressions on Paul, and when the time was right, he has a vision of the risen Christ, The implications that encompassed would be realized both, as a 'glimpse of eternity' in a single moment, as well as revealed over time. Similar to the 'already' but 'not yet.' character of the Kingdom. We don't have access to what Paul experienced and knew of Jesus and his disciples prior to Acts when Stephen is stoned. Life is never black and white, and certainly Paul was laboring under the pain of becoming a new creation. He just didn't know it at the time, but later writes about it. I suggest that Paul understands the truth of these words as it applies to the world, because he experienced how he himself had become a new creation. Paul reveals the telos of the praxis of his lived own life, which is at the same time true for humanity. He is representative of fallen man who is redeemed. It is the vision of the risen Christ that puts all of it into perspective for him. His old and new life. Paul is the effective spirtual leader that he is because he went from death to life. He draws from Jesus whole life of unswerving commitment and inexplicable devotion to the Father as a model for what he is to do and how God willed that he live, to fulfill the purpose for his creation as "son of the Most High God." Paul realizes his true identity and fulfills his human potential in the way God intended from the beginning, in spirit and truth, not because of observance of law, not because of his status that he achieved, not because he was zealous for religion or fought to preserve a national identity. Paul does God's will as appropriate to the situation. He makes Jesus Spirit relevant and come to bear in practical ways: on disease, disability, captivity, exclusive practices, removing walls and erasing divisions, on poverty. I believe Paul knew these things about Jesus both before his vision, and from communities and contact with those who knew Jesus. However, at the time, who Jesus was was being seen from a different frame of reference. Paul brings to us a new, broader consciousness having seen Jesus with new eyes. Wisdom became both the solvent and adhesive to undo what was disordered in persons and society, and to reconstruct according to God's plan for humanity. It is with this wider lens that we must examine Paul's letters. It is serious mistake to examine 'letter' of Paul's letters to the exclusion of the 'spirit' of Paul's letters. Paul's unique backgroud, personality, knowledge, skills made him the primary person God sought to initiate elements of Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. If we believe that Scripture is God inspired, it is not merely the words, but the silences that speak to us. God works through concrete structures of reality and persons, but also through the process of history, which means that at the time some letters were not preserved, and Paul does not focus on Jesus words and works as does the Gospels because his was a different perspective which illuminates another dimension of what it means to be disciples living under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Barbara said...

Thank you all for some wonderful thoughts. I want to respond to some of the points that a couple of you made. Brad thank you for the reminder that Paul spent time with the disciples and if human curiosity got the best of him, surely he inquired more about the life of Jesus, even having to re-learn what he knew and had heard as a faithful Jew. And his words to the Corinthians, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) speak volumes about his desire for himself as well as the churches to live as Christ not just know details about his life. Even though the Gospels were not yet written, isn’t it possible that these towns were circulating the stories? And I agree, too much is being written into Paul’s silence for in many ways he was not silent…his life spoke loudly of who Jesus was and is…and ours should as well even when we don’t expound upon the details of Jesus’ life.

brad said...

After continuing to think on this...I feel Paul knew all about Jesus, his sayings, as well as, what this "new" Judaism was doing. I would think that in order to be in the uproar that Betsy mentioned, which I believe, Paul would have HAD to know details on The Way. I do not think he would pursue so ardently this new church if it was only one small group of Jews. I think it was probably growing exponentially and this is the case Luke makes in the early chapters of Acts. This was growing SO fast that Paul was super inclined to do something about it. IN order to DO something, he would need to know something about this group. The War on Terrorism, the War on Drugs...any war on we can think of will involve learning the details of what we war on (even if these details seem to be terribly off base...)! There were rumors that these Christians were cannibals...heck they were also into incest according to some! I have a real hard time seeing Paul as NOT knowing much about Jesus and The Way. The rumor mill justt turns way too strong. The information Paul had may have been wrong, right, who knows. I simply have a hard time thinking he had nothing or little at all.

brad said...

OOPS...Forgot one thing. Barbara mentioned human curiosity getting the best of Paul. I might take this even further. Like you and I, we have this insatiable thirst to learn more and more about our Redeemer. I would think Paul would be in this category. Just look at the way he learned Torah!

Paul said...

I appreciate Francisco's comment:
"maybe we don’t need to look for a common language, just actions in accordance to the resurrected Christ..."

This fits also with Barbara's comment: "[Paul's] life spoke loudly of who Jesus was and is…and ours should as well even when we don’t expound upon the details of Jesus’ life."

I think this is a beautiful reminder that our life of faith is much more than words, concepts & head-knowledge, but is holistic: "The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal.5:6b). Barbara rightly points out that Paul lived accordingly and we are called to follow his example.

David B. Capes said...

There's been a lot of traffic lately and I haven't had a chance to respond to each. Let me respond to several in this comment. These are more thought-provoking questions than any final comments or conclusions.

First, in Galatians 1 Paul says that he spent 15 days with Cephas (aka Simon Peter). The verb there means "to visit to get information from." One scholar quipped: Paul and Peter had more to talk about than the weather. Paul had both opportunity and motive to gain information about Jesus from an authentic source.

The admonition to imitate Christ makes sense only if a person knows how he lived not only how he died. I argued in an article published a few years ago (copies available on request) that one of the reasons the Gospels were written was to provide "a script for imitation." Although I think there were other reasons for the writing down of the oral stories about Jesus, I do think imitation is one of those factors.

Paul persecuted "the Way" out of some knowledge of the movement. Whether the knowledge was based in fact or rumor we don't know. Larry Hurtado has written a good article on this. See if you can find it.

Likely he persecuted believers because of either what they believed or what they practiced. I'd certainly entertain a paper on why the pre-Christian Paul persecuted the church. It is not as self-evident as you might think. What would cause him to consider these people so dangerous that they should be imprisoned, killed, etc. See the DPL article on "zeal."

Question: to what degree are Paul's actions based upon imitation of Christ? Can you point to actions that are similar to Jesus' actions?

Question: why does Paul pray only 3 times that the thorn in the flesh might be removed? (2 Corinthians 12:1-7)

Paul Randall reminds us that Paul's faith is holistic. To what degree is Jesus' Kingdom project holistic?

Betsy draws a conclusion, I think, or perhaps more of an observation that leads me to a question:

Does the truth of Christianity and Jesus render Judaism false? If so, in what way?

I'll try to catch up more later.

Thanks for your contributions.

Betsy said...

The truth of Christianity renders Judaism's eschatology regarding the coming Messiah false, for the kind of Messiah they expected to see was political and worldly and the kind of rewards they sought were more materialistic rather than spiritual. Their perception lead them to erroneous conclusions and to placing undue focus on tradition and to themselves as "the chosen ones" to the exclusion of the rest of the world. They perceived bringing in outsiders would somehow contaminate their identity, rather than being able to see how Christ's way of being and living could render new life in the spirit and community, which would bring about kinds of changes Christianity ushers in. It produces whole new creation under the Lordship of heavenly King, rather than lordship under earthly king, thus the kind of power given to the disciples and future followers is not dependent on what they do to please God; it is determined by who they are in relation to God. God's Spirit is the source of power, and is dependent on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and issues from the Triune God as each person manifests in distinct ways, remaining One in Spirit and identity, which is at once our identity.

David B. Capes said...

Betsy offers some interesting thoughts to my last question? What do the rest of you think?

Are Betsy's comments typical of the old or new perspective on Paul/ Judaism? If she adopted the other perspective, would her conclusions stand or would they be different?

Finally, does the wrong practice of a religion render that religion untrue? In other words, if the majority of Christians think and practice that the Kingdom of God is mainly about getting people into heaven when they die, does that mean that Christianity is not true? Assuming, of course, that Jesus meant something else about the Kingdom.

Barbara said...

David,
A few thoughts on the most recent questions that have been raised…
• The Old Testament proclaimed One God, Jesus and Paul both proclaimed One God – certainly there is something about the Oneness of God that brings continuity to the whole story of the people of God and continuation of God’s plan. Are the Jews somehow our fore fathers and mothers of the faith providing a basis or foundation? Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. And your question, does the wrong practice of a religion render it untrue…do any of us rightly practice Christianity all the time? We Presbyterians have a belief that we are “reformed and always reforming” – there is always something to learn and ways to grow into the fullness of Christ.
• And what did Paul understand about the covenant with Abraham and the call to be a light to the Gentiles? Did he see his mission as a continuation of that in any way? If so, then I would say he didn’t discard his Jewish background completely but rather saw it as a continuation of God’s work in and through God’s people.
• I took an IDL course from Charles Van Engen entitled, “Biblical Foundations of Mission” and one of things we discussed was the concept of the eternal present and how God’s time is different than our time – that God’s time is the eternal now, seeing and existing in all time simultaneously – God’s time is not linear as our is and to make a line graph of how God works in time might help us but might cause us more confusion…I would love to hear your thoughts on that concept.

Barbara

Betsy said...

Insurrections against Rome or the emperor were extinquished, and the emperor would have thought nothing of eliminating all Jews, if one of them, Jesus, was pronounced as "king" of a "kingdom" for that could have been perceived as a threat against the emperor and empire, socieity hierarchy including the elite and retainers, peace and security, the very gods who had bestowed power and good fortune upon the empire as evident in victories. The gods might no longer favor the Roman empire if some king other than a leader elected by them reigned. The price for Jesus to be recognized as "king of the Jews" was potential anihilation of all Hebrew people. That's one reason why Jesus was such a threat to the Jews, not merely the religious authorities.

Luke Gordon said...

This is a follow up to David's question about wrong practice of a religion and its subsequent validity. I agree that Jesus meant more in his teaching about the Kingdom of God than a means into heaven. Christians that believe this narrow view, as I did for most of my life, are not wrong just incomplete. I believe it was Barbara that pointed out that Jesus came not to abolish the law but fulfill it. However, Christianity and Judaism alike are incomplete and thus lacking apart from the fulness that is offered in Christ. You could argue that they are thus wrong, or at least wrong in practice. But this does not mean that the essence of the faith is wrong. I like how Besty points out that dependence on the Holy Spirit is the source of power. This is what we get in Paul's letters. The Holy Spirit is what brings the power of the kingdom of God and the resourse to know God and live out the righteous requirements of the law. The the Old Testament scriptures and Jesus' teaching on the kingdom anticipate this time. This reminds me of what Fransisco was saying when he said that for Paul, "the kingdom was a work in progress." We see the Paul encouraging the church to live out the kingdom life and the fulfillment of the law through the power of the Holy Spirit that comes through faith in Jesus.

Luke Gordon said...

This is a follow up to David's question about wrong practice of a religion and its subsequent validity. I agree that Jesus meant more in his teaching about the Kingdom of God than a means into heaven. Christians that believe this narrow view, as I did for most of my life, are not wrong just incomplete. I believe it was Barbara that pointed out that Jesus came not to abolish the law but fulfill it. However, Christianity and Judaism alike are incomplete and thus lacking apart from the fulness that is offered in Christ. You could argue that they are thus wrong, or at least wrong in practice. But this does not mean that the essence of the faith is wrong. I like how Besty points out that dependence on the Holy Spirit is the source of power. This is what we get in Paul's letters. The Holy Spirit is what brings the power of the kingdom of God and the resourse to know God and live out the righteous requirements of the law. The the Old Testament scriptures and Jesus' teaching on the kingdom anticipate this time. This reminds me of what Fransisco was saying when he said that for Paul, "the kingdom was a work in progress." We see the Paul encouraging the church to live out the kingdom life and the fulfillment of the law through the power of the Holy Spirit that comes through faith in Jesus.

brad said...

Does the truth of Christianity and Jesus render Judaism false? If so, in what way?

I want to take a stab at this. I do not think that the truth of Christianity renders Judaism false at all. As people have commented, I believe that the truth of Christianity is the truth of Judaism. Christ came as mentioned as the fulfillment of Scripture or fulfillment of Judaism. If it fulfills Judaism how can it render it false?

Are Betsy's comments typical of the old or new perspective on Paul/ Judaism? If she adopted the other perspective, would her conclusions stand or would they be different?

My knowledge on the new perspective is elementary at best but here goes. It appears to me the Betsy’s answer represents the new perspective in that the new perspective believes that Judaism needed to keep themselves separate in order to accentuate their Jewish priviledge. “They perceived bringing in outsiders would somehow contaminate their identity…” The Old perspective is the thought obedience to the law gave credit before God.

Finally, does the wrong practice of a religion render that religion untrue? In other words, if the majority of Christians think and practice that the Kingdom of God is mainly about getting people into heaven when they die, does that mean that Christianity is not true? Assuming, of course, that Jesus meant something else about the Kingdom.

I do not think that a wrong practice renders a religion untrue unless that religion is completely made up of these practices and the religion requires perfect adherence to them. I can see where this old view would come into play here as maybe thinking that the Jews were “practicing” the faith incorrectly, hence the coming of Jesus as Lord and Savior, but I have a very hard time in stating that Judaism in and of itself is untrue. I think the truth in Jesus renders Judaism complete, not untrue.

brad said...

Does the truth of Christianity and Jesus render Judaism false? If so, in what way?

I want to take a stab at this. I do not think that the truth of Christianity renders Judaism false at all. As people have commented, I believe that the truth of Christianity is the truth of Judaism. Christ came as mentioned as the fulfillment of Scripture or fulfillment of Judaism. If it fulfills Judaism how can it render it false?

Are Betsy's comments typical of the old or new perspective on Paul/ Judaism? If she adopted the other perspective, would her conclusions stand or would they be different?

My knowledge on the new perspective is elementary at best but here goes. It appears to me the Betsy’s answer represents the new perspective in that the new perspective believes that Judaism needed to keep themselves separate in order to accentuate their Jewish priviledge. “They perceived bringing in outsiders would somehow contaminate their identity…” The Old perspective is the thought obedience to the law gave credit before God.

Finally, does the wrong practice of a religion render that religion untrue? In other words, if the majority of Christians think and practice that the Kingdom of God is mainly about getting people into heaven when they die, does that mean that Christianity is not true? Assuming, of course, that Jesus meant something else about the Kingdom.

I do not think that a wrong practice renders a religion untrue unless that religion is completely made up of these practices and the religion requires perfect adherence to them. I can see where this old view would come into play here as maybe thinking that the Jews were “practicing” the faith incorrectly, hence the coming of Jesus as Lord and Savior, but I have a very hard time in stating that Judaism in and of itself is untrue. I think the truth in Jesus renders Judaism complete, not untrue.

David B. Capes said...

Boy, I'm rushing to keep up with you guys. Let me respond to a couple of the comments. First, Betsy has made a good point. A point I think that resonates with Paula Fredriksen at Boston Universty. The claim that Jesus is Christ (i.e., Messiah or King) and Jesus is Lord (so Caesar is not) are implicitly political and in-your-face to the power structures. It may well be that Saul and his ilk persecuted Christians in order to keep the Romans happy. Perhaps they said, if you don't do something about those Christians, we'll do something about all of you. So persecution of the Christians becomes a way of self-preservation. The Romans who crucified the King of the Jews, probably didn't like it that a growing company of Christ-followers were still naming him as their king and Lord.

Barbara made a comment regarding God and time. I attended an Iftar dinner (breaking the fast of Ramadan) and met a fellow from Turkey. He is finishing up his PhD in Islamic metaphysics. We had a rather long discussion regarding time. Likewise, we discussed the idea of what it means to say God exists. So my head is swimming today. These are two complicated questions. The question regarding time is this: does God exist in time? does God exist as time? does God exist outside of time? It seems to me that these are the options. If time exists in relation to the created universe, then God is before and above time. If time exists apart from the created universe, then you could say that God exists in time. But again his mode of existence would be different than our mode of existence or the way in which my computer exists. Still these are tough questions. Where's a philosopher when you need one?

LTD said...

Has anyone given any thought to the possibility that "the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel" is Luke (2Cor5.18ff.)? He was "appointed by the churches to travel with [Paul & co.]." If not Luke, surely the brother knows of the Jesus tradition. I wonder if perhaps Paul received any information from this brother.

I realize postulating that Luke = "the famous brother" opens the door to possibilities which rub against scholarship at large. For example, if such a connection can be made, then perhaps Luke's Gospel was written at an earlier date than expected. I believe there is good reason to date GLuke (or a proto-GLuke) in the early 40s. This, of course, is negotiable. But that a travelling companion of Paul's was famous for his preching of the gospel of Jesus surely implies more than a working knowledge of the Jesus tradition.