Answers for VinnyJH from James McGrath’s Blog Post on Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?”

My answers below are to this comment from “VinnyJH.”

Almost every assertion you are making here is refuted by a straightforward reading of Paul’s letters.   He refers in Gal 2 to having met with those who walked with the earthly Jesus.  

Show me where in Galatians 2 Paul says that anybody he ever met “walked with the earthly Jesus.”   I dare you.  I double dare you.  It’s just ain’t there.

James, Cephas, and John (v. 9).

While the Damascus Road experience got him on the right track, it was the fulfillment of Scripture that nourished his personal and missionary journey (Rom 1 and 16, and elsewhere).

So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?

You were saying that practically everything Paul knew about Jesus came from the Damascus Road experience or some other “heavenly” revelations.  I’m pointing out that it was rather the fulfillment of Scripture that gave Paul most of his information.  Note that it’s not the Scripture alone but the  “the fulfillment” of it.  If there was no historical Jesus, there’d be no fulfillment.

 In Phil 2 and elsewhere he quotes hymns or confessions that arose in the Christianity of the 30’s before he wrote any of the letters.

So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?

It demonstrates that the Christianity Paul practiced came from the apostles in Judea who had preceded him and whose understanding had come directly from the historical and risen Jesus.

In 1 Cor 15 he quotes the gospel as preached not just by him but by all the apostles everywhere.  

So what?  How does that show that he knows anything about a historical Jesus of Nazareth?  All he says it that other people encountered the same supernatural being that he encountered.

Of all the apostles whom Paul names in 1 Corinthians 15 (Peter, James, the Twelve), Paul is the only one who didn’t walk with Jesus before He died.

The letter to the Romans is written to a church that he did not found and he had never previously visited, yet he quotes and alludes to many teachings about Jesus that he knew they would share with him.

You are going to have to be more specific than that.

Well, right off the bat (i.e. the first five verses) you have Paul recalling what would be familiar and common to them all:

  • They are believers in common of a “gospel from God.”
  • This good news was promised before it ever happened.
  • These promises are recorded in the holy Scriptures of Israel
  • This gospel centers on the Son of God
  • This son was a descendant of David according to the flesh
  • And He was declared the Son of God by virtue of the resurrection.
  • And this good news applies not just to the descendants of Abraham but to all nations.

Paul was beginning his lengthy letter on what would be common ground to them all.  Read chapter 16 and see what a diverse group this included.  Libraries are full of books by people trying to explain what Paul was arguing for in this weighty letter, but no one thinks that the points I’ve listed here, or other such points in the letter, were in dispute.

He indicates in Rom 1 that Jesus was born a descendant of David and in 1 Thess 2 that He died in Judea.

The only reason he knows that Jesus was a descendant of David is because the scriptures told him so. Maybe he is saying that Jesus was killed in Judea or maybe he was just saying that Jesus was killed by the Jews. That passage is not undisputed, but I’ll grant you half credit on that one.

The Scriptures can’t tell Paul that Jesus was a descendant of David.  They can only say that the Messiah was to be a descendant of David.  Unless there was an Jesus born to an actual descendant of David,  there’d be no basis for the claim that Jesus was a descendant of David.

 He quotes the earthly Jesus’ words and actions from the night before He died in 1 Cor 11.

Yes he does, but he claims that he received it from the Lord, not that he heard about it from anyone who was there.  That is not the way that we normally think people come by historical information.

Paul doesn’t say that he received it directly from the Lord or by revelation.  It’s more likely that he received it from some of the apostles who were there that night.

He quotes His teaching in 1 Cor 7 and 9, so how can you say he didn’t know the Lord was a teacher or that he didn’t know Jesus had disciples?

He doesn’t quote teachings of Jesus.  He attributes commandments to the Lord. There is nothing to indicate that he thought these came from a historical person rather than by direct revelation to Paul or other early Christians.

The Lord’s teaching is, ipso facto, a commandment.  Whether Paul says he’s passing on the Lord’s teaching or the Lord’s commandments, he’s saying the same thing.

He taught about miracles in 1 Cor 12 and attributed them to Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit, so how can you say he didn’t know Jesus was a healer?

I can say it because absolutely nothing in 1 Cor. 12 even hints at Paul thinking that he is talking about what a historical person did.

He calls Jesus “Lord” in v. 3.  That title was only given to Jesus after He’d been raised from the dead (a point he makes also in Rom 10:9).  Jesus couldn’t have been raised if He hadn’t died, and He couldn’t die if He hadn’t lived.  It is this risen Jesus (that is, the one who lived, died, was raised and then named “Lord”) who is pouring out these gifts through the Holy Spirit.

Paul didn’t corroborate all those details about Jesus that you listed because he didn’t need to.

Maybe so, but you claimed that you couldn’t conceive of anyone thinking Jesus was mythical after reading Paul’s letters. You may think you know the reason that Paul doesn’t corroborate those details, but you can only get that by reading the gospels back into Paul.  Maybe that’s even a legitimate approach (although I have my doubts), but it’s not something you can get to from reading Paul.

You don’t need to read the gospels back into Paul’s letters to realize that there was a significant movement of people in the Mediterranean Basin who believed that there was a certain Jesus who fulfilled the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible about Messiah, and it was these people who were receiving Paul’s letters.

6 Replies to “Answers for VinnyJH from James McGrath’s Blog Post on Bart Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?””

  1. Paul never says that Cephas, James or John “walked with the earthly Jesus.” He says in 1 Cor 15 that they witnessed an appearance of the risen Christ as Paul had. You are reading the gospels back into Paul.

  2. That Cephas, James, and John had walked with Jesus was the basis for Paul “submitting his gospel to them.” If they had only had the same kind of revelation he had, there would have been no basis for Paul’s doing so.

    Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 15 references “the twelve” without explanation. It’s clear therefore that the readers knew who Paul had in mind even if they’d never read the gospels.

  3. Paul wanted to know whether the pillars in Jerusalem were responsible for the false brothers who were disturbing the Galatians. That is more than sufficient to explain why he went to Jerusalem to compare his gospel to theirs. Moreover, they were his predecessors in the faith regardless of whether they walked with Jesus. The fact that the Corinthians knew who “the twelve” were does nothing to show that they had walked with Jesus.

  4. I see no basis for your theory about why Paul went to Jerusalem in the text. He describes his interactions with Peter and the others as having occurred in the past and gives the reasons for those interactions – none of which include the present crisis.

    The fact that Peter and the others preceded him in faith would have offered no basis for his submitting his gospel to theirs. There was no “seniority system” with regard to heavenly appearances. The reason for the submission was that Peter, James, and John had known Christ according to the flesh and Paul had not.

    The expression “the twelve” would have no meaning apart from their having walked with Jesus. You’d need an alternative theory for why Paul could refer to “the twelve” in a privileged role without need for explanation to the people of Corinth.

  5. This is getting silly. You happily read “walked with the earthly Jesus” into the text whenever it suits your purpose, but you reject the alternative I propose on the grounds that it lacks a basis in the text. No thanks.

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