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What Saul/Paul Had To Say About Historical Jesus

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Posted by John Morgan Powell on April 17, 2001 15:36:01 UTC

In previous posts I've asked about the historicity of Jesus Christ. I've suggested, based on Zindler's article in ,

that He may never have existed as described in the Gospels because Nazareth apparently did not exist as a community until after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., therefore much (if not almost all) of the New Testament stories about Him could be false.

Since I have no good reason to doubt the existence of Paul who wrote some, if not all, of the letters in the New Testament ascribed to him, and since historians consider his works the oldest in Christianity, I decided to see what Paul had to say about the historical Jesus.

First consider what biblical scholars think about Paul:

`Reassessing an Apostle
The quest for the historical St. Paul yields some surprising new theories'


`He never walked with Jesus of Nazareth, yet he traversed the Roman Empire proclaiming him the divine Christ. He never heard Jesus teach, yet he became Christianity's most influential expositor of doctrine. He spoke little about Jesus's life, yet he attached cosmic significance to his death and Resurrection. The Apostle Paul, some scholars now believe, was more instrumental in the founding of Christianity than anyone else–even Jesus himself.'


`Little is known of his physical traits. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke vaguely of a physical affliction–a "thorn in the flesh"–that he described as "a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated." Biblical scholars have speculated it could have been a physical malady such as epilepsy, malaria, or eye disease, while one commentator has suggested that Paul's torment may have been his own vexatious sexuality. In his 1991 book, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, N.J., depicted Paul as a repressed and self-loathing homosexual, a view that is not widely shared.'

I heard this homosexual theory before. As I reread the letters of Paul this weekend I found the homosexual theory very believable, especially in the letter to the Romans. It would be ironic if Christianity rose from obscurity primarily because a repressed homosexual felt the need to justify his salvation.

What did Paul have to say about the historical Jesus? I noted the following items as I read the Pauline epistles:

Jesus was
-of the seed of David
-born of woman
-had a brother (perhaps more)
-was sinless
-became perfect
-was tempted
-was rich, but became poor for his followers (because He had the wealth of God? or did Paul think Jesus was finacially wealthy on Earth?)
-was taken before Pontius Pilate where he gave a good confession
-was killed by the Jews
-was crucified, buried, and rose (resurrected) the third day.

Something I hadn't noticed before is that Paul claimed that anti-Christian ordinances were nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). I don't recall the Gospels saying anything about this.

Paul never mentioned Nazareth, Bethlehem, or other details of His life. The teachings of Paul were identical to some credited to Jesus as given in the Gospels (which were written later), such as Love of God and of neighbor covers the 10 commandments. Perhaps because Paul quoted from the Old Testament, but never specifically from the Gospels (although he probably would have indicated his source if they existed) is one of the reasons scholars claim that his writings predated the Gospels.

Paul seems to admit he lied, but he considered it was justified because he was able to show that both Jew and Gentile were under sin.

Rom. 2: 7 For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?

I read this as : If the truth of God and power of Christ has become better promoted because I lied about some things, like maybe details of his life, should I be considered a sinner? It's a white lie if good came of it.

Rom. 2:9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

Perhaps the Gospel writers/fabricators felt justified in lying some to convince people of the power of God and divinity of Jesus. They were convinced on less evidence, but other people needed more convincing.

It reminds me of one of the helpers of the "spoon-bender" Uri Geller exposed by James Randi. Randi tried to convince this guy (I forget his name) that Uri was merely a talented magician. The guy admitted that he had to help Uri sometimes in his tricks, but he was convinced that Uri was nevertheless genuine. When he finally admitted to Randi what exact miracles Uri had performed for him that convinced him that Uri had supernatural powers, Randi was able to reproduce the tricks. The guy finally realized he had been duped by Uri.

I can imagine Saul / Paul of Tarsus being in some ways like the popular LDS leader Paul H. Dunn. For many years Paul Dunn spoke of faith-promoting events in his own and the lives of others. When someone decided to get more details about his great stories he made some startling discoveries. Paul Dunn never played professional baseball, but was only on a minor league team; his war buddy who died in his arms in Korea pleading for all Mormons to keep the faith didn't die there, but was still alive; and other lies. The LDS church quietly forced Paul H. Dunn into early retirement. Many youth had their testimonies strengthened by Paul Dunn's false stories. When asked about his lies, Dunn said something to the effect that they promoted good.

If Saul / Paul believed Jesus really resurrected, but needed to make up some things to help convince others, maybe he wouldn't think it was so bad. God would justify him, so he thought.

Saul / Paul had an intersting attitude about teachings that might conflict with what he first taught.

Gal 1:8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

In other words, the first story holds. It can't be changed. I suppose if even God came down to correct the mistake the saints were supposed to ignore Him.

1 Tim 6:20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:

Even if science contradicts you, ignore it. It's not really science, so claimed Paul.

Speaking of white lying, Peter made an interesting statement that impresses me differently now than it did when I last read it many years ago:

2 Pet 1:16 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

I've come to be especially skeptical when someone emphasizes things like "This is a true story", "I'm not lying", "This isn't a fable". I tend to ask, "Why do you feel the need to emphasize this. Is there an especially good reason you know of that I should be doubting you?"

Did Peter recognize that they had come up with a cunning plan to make Jesus more believable, but felt justified because it promoted what he considered to be most important and true, that Jesus resurrected?

Some believe that the Gospel of Mark, the basis for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, was written under the direction of Peter. Maybe Peter was the one who decided the life of Christ needed to be fleshed out so more people would accept the important doctrines. What if a lot of converts started to ask questions like: what was Jesus like? What did He do during His life? There may have been a great temptation to exaggerate or outright lie. It was justified in their minds because the reality of his resurrection was what was really important.

The apostles may have become martyrs for their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, but may have known that the Gospel accounts were fabrications.

Early Christianity isn't unique in this "lie to promote God" attitude.

There were three witnesses to the Book of Mormon who claimed to see the golden plates and an angel. There were 8 other witnesses who claimed to see the plates (but no angel). These were early leaders of the Church.

Maybe the golden plates never existed, but only a cloth-covered heavy bundle and Joseph Smith's cleverness, but the witnesses were deceived by Joseph Smith's claims. They believed Joseph Smith was God's prophet and that the Book of Mormon was inspired, so when Joseph was able to convince them to testify they saw the plates even though none of them did except covered by the cloth and in their mind's eye, they felt justified in signing their names.

Science requires a better way. Principles of truth should be reproducible by anyone, anywhere with the proper equipment and technique.

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