Thursday, February 12, 2009

Okay, maybe not so much Paul as Mark and Luke

I see that WisdomUnchained has responded in detail to my post about Paul. I will address him here.


You write,

I have read the 3 parts starting with the Conspiracy of Silence so I understand your reasoning that Paul was speaking of Jesus on a spiritual plane and not as an earthly person. My initial reaction is that a person, after reading all of Paul's writings, would have to make a pretty significant leap of faith to agree with that. This in light of the fact that the gospel of Luke makes it clear that the Jesus being spoken about was an earthly person. Luke of course was a travelling companion of Paul so it seems unlikely that he would have somehow been in disagreement with Paul over whether Jesus was a real person or not.

I'm glad that you were willing to read the other side. You are certainly on the way to deeper understanding. Many refuse to read that which they disagree with. You and I--and probably most of those reading this--are among those who are willing to explore the thoughts of those who disagree with us.

Now that you have read the skeptical view, you may want to go back and read Paul for what he says. People are so used to hearing bits and pieces in church, where the speaker jumps between Paul and the gospels, leaving one with the impression that they are all speaking the same message. But if one isolates just the teaching of Paul, and reads it by itself, without interpreting it in the light of the first five books of the New Testament, it is hard to see that Paul is speaking of an earthly Jesus. That was the point I was responding to. The argument had been raised that Paul was a good early witness to the reality of the story of Jesus. Paul certainly testifies that he believed in a Jesus, but does he witness to the fact that Jesus lived on earth? That is the question.

Are we justified in reading Paul on his own, without viewing him in light of the first 5 books? Yes, if Paul wrote long before those books, wrote to a different audience, and had no contact with those other books or their authors. Is there any convincing evidence that the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were known by Paul?

Interestingly, your response shifts completely from the original topic of the writings of Paul, and turns back to the four gospels as your source. I addressed those books at Are the Gospels Historical?, Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? , and When Were the Gospels Written?.

You refer to Luke, the companion of Paul, as the writer of the third gospel. How do you know that he wrote that book? The third gospel is completely anonymous, with no indication within the book itself of who the author is. Nobody even mentions Luke as a writer of a gospel until 150 years after Christ. And even then, we are told only that a Luke wrote the book, and not told which Luke. And yet your whole argument here hinges on the assertion that this book was written by Luke, the companion of Paul. Do you have any evidence for that claim? And if you admit that there is no convincing evidence that this Luke wrote that book, then the argument that Paul's intimate companion taught an earthly Jesus disappears. One is then left once more with turning to the writings of Paul himself to find out what Paul taught.

The gospel of Mark, who of course is considered the disciple Peter's interpreter, also speaks of an earthly Jesus. Since from Paul's writings we know that he had extensive interaction with Peter, and Peter claimed to be a direct disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, it seems pretty unreasonable that there was some major miscommunication between all four of them over whether Jesus was a real earthly person who had died just 20 some years before or not.

Again, I see an assertion here about the authorship of Mark. Once again, there is no mention within the gospel of who the author is. Again, we find nobody identifying this particular book with Mark until 150 years after Jesus. How do you know it was written by Peter's interpreter?

Paul mentions Peter, but nowhere mentions anything about Peter actually being with a physical Jesus on earth. In fact, Paul very clearly indicates that his own spiritual visions of Jesus are of equal validity with what Peter saw. Is there any indication anywhere that Paul thought Peter saw anything more than a vision? If I look only at the writings of Paul, I find there no evidence there that Peter physically saw Jesus.

Mark most likely wrote to an isolated group away from Palestine who had no contact with the Jerusalem apostles. If the Jerusalem apostles were even still alive at that point, they probably had no contact with the book of Mark, and so never refuted it.

If you would like to claim Mark was written before 70 AD, I would be interested in your reasons. For I find strong evidence for a date of Mark after 70 AD.

Peter even addresses this in 2 Peter 1:16 where he says, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty”..

Excuse me, but how do you know that Peter wrote the book of 2 Peter? 2 Peter is widely regarded as a second century pseudepigraph, that is, it was written by somebody other than Peter. See 2 Peter. What are your reasons for thinking Peter wrote that book?

Be that as it may, that still doesn't answer the underlying question. What are your thoughts on why Paul, who from the writings attributed to him was obviously a highly educated zealous Jew, who spoke and wrote fluently in multiple languages, was a man of reason, a roman citizen, a rising star in his Jewish sect of the Pharisees, and one who had already demonstrated his contempt for Christians by admittedly having them put to death; Why would he have abandoned his zealous Jewish beliefs to convert to Christianity? All this in light of the fact that he was trading a life of success and respect for one of prison, beatings, and suffering that lead to his own death by crucifixion. Whether it was an encounter with the physical or spiritual Jesus, it was a catastrophic event that compelled him to make a 180 degree change in his lifestyle based on 1400 years of tradition. A reasonable man, as Paul obviously was, just doesn’t do that without a dramatic event.

Did Paul encounter a catastrophic event? Sure! It was the Diaspora. Paul appears to have been one of the many Jews that were spread by the Romans across the area, intermixed with believers in many religions. In those desperate times in which people had to learn to cooperate with people of many cultures to survive, many adopted parts of other religions. So it is no big surprise that Paul combined elements of Judaism with elements of other religions, such as the religions that taught that a dying savior god in the spiritual realm brings salvation.

There is no doubt that Paul was zealous about his religion. Many are zealous about many different religions. What is in question is whether Paul taught that his Jesus had recently walked on earth as a man. You will have no problem convincing me that Paul was zealous. The question before us is this: What message was Paul zealous for?

I look forward to reading your response.

No comments: