Sunday, February 08, 2009

What about Paul?

I have contended that the early records tell little about an historical Jesus. We have no record of anybody definitively writing of the earthly Jesus revealed in the gospels until about 70 AD when Mark wrote his book. If the earthly life of Jesus was so important, why did nobody choose to write about it until 40 years later? Could it be that Mark was simply writing a novel which was later adopted as truth, and that the story has very little basis in historical fact?

Here is a reader's response:

I just came across your website this evening and I must admit that I haven't read through everything yet. I'm curious though about what your thoughts are on the books of the new testament written by Paul. I read your comments on the gospels and how you question whether they are eye witness accounts or not. Paul on the otherhand is credited with writing much of the new testament. He describes his seemingly miraculous conversion to belief in Christ and then travels around until he is killed proclaiming Christ. What are your thoughts on these books and Paul himself? Are you skeptical that he was a real person? If you think he was a real person, why would he have fabricated the story he did especially unto death? The other option is that he was deceived by the Apostles but he seemingly would have had an easy time of validating their stories with other eye witnesses since he lived during the same time as the original Apostles. I can understand how zealots in our own modern age can be deceived and convinced by faith in whatever religion to give their life as a final act of obedience. They take the word of a man before them. If you read the writtings of Paul though, he comes across as a man of reason. It doesn't seem reasonable that he could be deceived given his proximity to others who could disprove the Apostle's claims. Even if he was deceived, why make up the lie about his conversion? And what could his movitation have been to perpetuate that lie and Christ? Before proclaiming Christ, he was apparently a rising star in the Jewish community, a roman citizen, a free man, with power, influence, and likely money. Why trade all that for a lie?

Yes I believe that "Paul" was a literal man, for we have a collection of books written by "Paul". Although we can't be absolutely certain that the person who wrote these books was called "Paul" by those around him, it seems obvious that a man existed who wrote these books.

The problem is that Paul does not testify to the fact of an earthly Jesus. Paul describes a Jesus in heaven, who is doing a work on a spiritual plane. If this Jesus had had an earthly existence before this heavenly work, the letters of Paul bypass it. Yes, Paul refers to a death and resurrection, but the experience he refers to appears to be a heavenly experience, not one that happened on earth. You can read more about this at Conspriacy of Silence.

So the books of Paul, rather than being a convincing argument for the earthly resurrection, actually support the view that Jesus was considered to be only a heavenly figure by the earliest Christians. Not until Mark came along do we have a record of anyone reporting that the story happened on earth.

1 comment:

WisdomUnchained said...

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. 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. 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”. As far as speculating that the gospel of Mark, the gospel considered to be the first one written, could possibly have been a fictional novel, seems an even greater stretch of faith. That gospel is considered by most to have been written prior to Peter's crucifixion in 64AD. Even if Peter's friend Mark would have done such a ludicrous thing as create a fictional novel based on Peter’s ministry, it seems reasonable that Peter himself would have addressed such a falsehood in a letter. Even if Mark's gospel wasn't written until 70AD as you assume (after Peter’s death), then John, who lived some 35 years after Peter was killed, would have done something to prevent a fictional document from being incorporated into early Christian doctrine. John of course is attributed with writing one of the gospels attesting to Jesus’ earthly existence as well as several other books of the new testament acknowledging his “coming in the flesh” (1 John 4:2).

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.