Jesus and Paul

Wenham, David, Did Saint Paul Get Jesus Right? The Gospel According to Paul (Lion Hudson, 2010)


In recent years, fiction authors such as Dan Brown and Philip Pullman and militant atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, in attacking the fundamentals of Christianity have deployed the strategy of undermining Jesus by alleging that Paul invented Christianity against the tenets promoted by him. Wenham seeks to refute the major arguments of the atheists:

  1. The Bible, notably the New Testament, is not History:
    1. Non Scriptural evidence
      • Tacitus (fl 100 AD) wrote of the persecution of Christians under Nero and the Crucifixion of Jesus
      • Suetonius (c71-c135) confirms Acts 18:2
      • Josephus (37 – c. A.D. 100), wrote extensively on the New Testament era and the role of Jesus
      • An archaeological inscription referencing Gallio confirms Acts 18:12.
    2. NT and other ancient documents. New Testament documents stand up well in comparison with other ancients texts as genuine sources:
      • Thucydides (c460-c400 BC) 40 manuscripts, earliest 10th Century AD
      • Tacitus (AD 56 – AD 117) 110 manuscripts, earliest 10th Century
      • New Testament, 5000 manuscripts by 400 AD, earliest "Manchester Fragment" 125 AD.
  2. Paul introduced the idea of Jesus' divinity
    1. Texts:
    2. Paul and the Church
      • His conversion story does not speak well of him
      • He had persecuted the church and his conversion brought suspicion
      • He was an outsider who came into an existing group
      • So soon after Jesus' death it would have been difficult to change the major elements of the Jesus story
      • His conversion was humbling and engendered gratitude
      • Conversion was formative for Paul but not the Church.
  3. Paul's silence on the life of Jesus
    1. Paul never cites Jesus in support of his own teaching
    2. Crucifixion and Resurrection central to Paul
    3. Last Supper and Crucifixion: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; 5:7
    4. Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Romans 1:3-4
    5. 1 Corinthians:
    6. Paul primarily a trouble shooter in letters, as opposed to preaching.
  4. Jesus and his Father
    1. Galatians 4:4-6
    2. Atonement: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Colossians 1:15-20
    3. Paul as a persecutor reacted against the Messianic claim; but he might have filled out the concept of Jesus' divinity
  5. How different are Jesus and Paul?
    1. Was Paul in accord with Jesus?:
    2. Do the Gospels follow Paul:
      • Paul’s letters and Luke, Paul's companion, dominate the NT; Mark, who influenced Matthew, knew Paul
      • Mark and Matthew portray Jesus being worshipped
      • Synoptics see Jesus as an atoner
      • Matthew: Paul is pro Gentile, Matthew not so
      • Mark: based on Peter not Paul
      • Luke: an admirer but bent on being historically accurate
      • John: no evidence that his stress on Jesus' divinity stems from a Pauline faction; claims eyewitness testimony (cf Bauckham)
    3. Was Paul too controversial to innovate?
      • A controversialist only on the issue of Gentiles
      • As an outsider, Paul had no influence on basic doctrine
      • He was not one of the twelve.
  6. Conclusion
    • Influential but did not 'invent' Jesus' divinity or atonement.

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