Jesus – Now With Fewer Miracles! Dialogue with David Fitzgerald, Part 2

I’m not sure if I’m numbering the parts of our conversation correctly, but David Fitzgerald responded to my response to his response to my post about his talk (and presumably anyone reading this will agree that it was a good choice not to call my post that). I’m grateful that David is interested in continuing the conversation, and hope that those listening in will find it interesting too.

Rather than offer a superficial and scattered overview of points about which we agree and disagree this time around, I thought it might be more interesting and more helpful to focus on one particular point.

David understands 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 to indicate that, according to Paul, the crucified Christ that he proclaims did no miracles to persuade Jews to believe. “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

Setting aside for now the possibility that 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 is talking about Paul’s proclamation being something unimpressive to Jews and Greeks (as the wider context might suggest), I want to ask which of the following is more likely, if we treat this statement as referring to Christ himself as having offered neither signs nor wisdom:

(1) Paul is here giving us information that brings us closer to a historical figure of Jesus, who did not in fact perform miracles, the later miracle stories being legendary developments;

(2) Paul is here talking about a heavenly figure “known” through visions, whom he proclaims, but this heavenly figure neither offers wisdom nor performs miracles.

I personally would say that #1 is the more likely of the two, for at least two reasons. First, as we follow ancient Christian sources through time, the trend is towards increasing the miraculous element rather than reducing it. Second, it seems to me that it will be hard to come up with a plausible scenario in which Christianity develops from belief in a purely heavenly figure that offers none of the things that redeemers, angels and deities were typically expected to.

The telling of miracle stories, the appeals to Scripture, all seem to make sense to historians as attempts by followers of the historical Jesus to rationalize what actually happened to him and deal with the cognitive dissonance of having the one they hoped to be the Messiah executed by the Romans. On the other hand, to suggest that Paul is proclaiming a purely heavenly figure as the Messiah, who was crucified and rose from the dead in a heavenly realm and at some unspecified time in the past, still seems to me far less compelling a historical scenario, not to mention one that ignores what Jews in that time understood by an anointed one descended from David.
I’ll leave it there, and invite David (no not that one, the other one) and anyone else interested in discussing this to do so!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03663871073350593776 Hjalti

    "(1) Paul is here giving us information that brings us closer to a historical figure of Jesus, who did not in fact perform miracles, the later miracle stories being legendary developments;"Interesting. Not even healing miracles? If your conclusion is correct, then it seems to me that we would have to assume that the historical Jesus wasn't known for healing people (because if he did, surely Paul would've known).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03251760833738663423 Gilgamesh

    I don't think your argument is all that sound. Concerning your first point, this is consistent with either hypothesis you specify. A fictional creation can be given more and more amazing qualities just as much as a historical person. Look at Enoch, someone that is barely mentioned in the OT but has a significant literature afterwards. If we had to prefer Hypothesis (1) based on your reasoning here, we would end up accepting the existence of likely fictional characters. Heck, even Superman became more amazing with time. So, not only is your point consistent with either hypothesis, it gives us no reason to prefer one over the other–it is equally compatible.As for your second reason to prefer Hypothesis (1), it isn't logically valid as it is an argument from ignorance–"I can't see how that could have happened". Moreover, you are asking for the mythicist to explain the whole of the origins of Christianity (trying doing that in one page!) concerning a point which is simply about Paul implying that there were no miracles stories attached to the Jesus character in Paul's time.As for what Paul says, let's use your semantics so we are on the same page: Paul's proclamations were "unimpressive" to Jews and Gentiles. Now, Paul is clear that he states non-Christians see his message about the crucified Messiah as silly, but would Paul not have worded things differently had he known of traditions where Jesus did miracles and said wise things? I would see Paul's paragraph like this: "For the Jews demand signs and the Gentiles wisdom, and we have all the more through Jesus–he gave signs and wonders and wisdom from the Most Wise, and through the Crucifixion he gave us salvation. His wisdom humbled the wise, his deeds awed the crowds, and his death gave us everlasting life." In other words, why did not Paul say that he had more that what the Greeks and Jews offered? Instead, Paul seems to imply that he has Christ crucified instead of, and in spite of, miracles and wisdom traditions.Overall, I don't see a valid argument against the understanding Fitzgerald is giving here (which I think he is derived from G.A. Wells). It is also worth saying though that even if Fitzgerald's analysis is correct, that Paul does not know of any miracle or wisdom traditions concerning Jesus, that does not mean there was no historical Jesus. It would of course limit what could be said about him, but a Jesus that did no miracles and said nothing worth calling wise is still possible historically. Now, a significant number of arguments like this can devastate the historical Jesus, but this one point alone cannot.I specify this because you also seem to be avoiding the interpretation based upon the conclusion it leads to. Since this is also logically invalid, it is to be avoided. Instead, what points can be made against the interpretation that Paul is demonstrating that the miracle/wisdom tradition has not yet been attached to Jesus in the apostolic age? If you ask "explain the entirety of Christian origins" then you are jumping the issue at hand. Like you said, let's take this one piece at a time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Gilgamesh, I apologize if in my attempt to be brief I sacrificed clarity. My point was not that fictional characters do not become more impressive with time, but that mythical figures normally have something impressive about them to begin with. Is there any main character in a mythical system that does no miracles, no heroic feats, and offers no teaching?As for your question about what Paul supposedly doesn't say, it sounds to me like a paraphrase of what he does in fact go on to say. So perhaps you could explain further how you understand the difference between what Paul wrote and what you expected him to?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, are you suggesting that Paul did not believe that Christ was resurrected? Clearly, if Paul thought he did no wonders and gave no teachings, but that he was resurrected, that would qualify as a heroic feat, would it not?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03251760833738663423 Gilgamesh

    It seems that Jesus had something impressive in his resume even without miracles and wisdom statements: being a resurrected god. That doesn't sound all too minuscule. Moreover, Jesus' death seems as heroic as other myths, such a Mithras killing the heavenly bull. And I don't know if one could say Dionysus did much that was heroic (at least compared to Jesus, willing sacrifice), and yet we don't say he was a person. So you don't seem to have a valid exclusion characteristic that keeps Jesus out of the potentially all-heavenly category.As for Paul, I'll try to take a quick stab at it. 1 Cor 1:18-22, which sets the context for the next verses, compared the wisdom of this world to the wisdom of God, and how what the world considered foolish was in fact God's wisdom. Now, if Paul knew that Jesus had some good, worldly advice (Golden rule, etc.) it would be odd that he does not mention that his religion has such wisdom. Instead, we have Paul making a theological diatribe against worldly wisdom. Instead, a 'foolish' method was God's method for bringing wisdom: Jesus' death and resurrection.Again, had Jesus also been known to have said great things, Paul should have been able to make mention of this here. Moreover, that Paul says God preferred to use a method that would be seen as silly or foolish, that implies God didn't also use something that would have been recognized as wise to the non-Christian (unless the Golden Rule is also unwise?).So again, when Paul says the Greeks seek wisdom, and Paul says he preaches Christ crucified, it is strongly implied that Paul has only Christ crucified to offer, no "Blessed are the meek" statements. After all, if you try to sell a product, the one thing you should mention is what your customer thinks is important–you won't be successful telling a shopper that what you are looking for isn't important and yet you have that very thing to sell!I don't claim my argument is bullet-proof, and it is inference from the passage. Nonetheless, I think it makes the most sense of what Paul says here. Perhaps it can be argued that Paul need not mean Jesus did no miracles or said nothing wise, but at the very least it shows that for this early Christian such traditions were unimportant, perhaps even distracting from the real message.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com/ mikew1584

    The resurrection, Evan, appears to Paul to be something seen only by the faithful, why would a skeptic be impressed that Peter or Paul saw a ghost? To the question about healings, faith healing is a dime a dozen activity even today. Why would anyone then be expected to get exited about a common activity? I think the signs hoped for would be of the unmistakable, not the tricks of a second rate swami.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Evan, Resurrection in a Jewish context meant humans being restored to life by God at the end of time. That is what mainstream New Testament scholarship understands Paul to be referring to. What does resurrection mean to mythicists, and what Jewish sources are appealed to justify understanding Paul's meaning in that way?But presumably according to the rules of interpretation being applied to this text, Paul doesn't proclaim Christ risen (that could be construed as a 'sign', could it not?) but only Christ crucified, which alone is what Paul says he proclaims in this passage, is it not?Another problem with mythicism is that it complains about Paul not narrating events in the life of Jesus. But even mythical figures and gods had stories. And so If one is unwilling to cite genre as the reason for Paul's silence, then his silence about the supposed myth is no less puzzling than the silence about the supposed history.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    I think Hjalti was hitting on the most important aspect. The options are not 1), or 2) only. A third option is that the "signs" that the Jews were expecting, were the ones that they expected from a warrior messiah. So the 3rd option is to "define" the type of signs expected by the Jews. Miracles of healing people, raising them from the dead (especially of common people), feeding people, even making wine out of water (my personal favorite), are all miracles/signs that help the common people. What exactly was Jesus so ticked off at – the elite, who thought they could do whatever they wanted, at the expense of the people. The Jews in power, who are the ones Paul was talking about, expected a warrior king like David, who would lavish "greatness" upon the Jews in power, for their "praying openly on the street corners, and in the temple". This is shown by the Jews in power reacting negatively to Jesus actually healing someone on the Sabbath. No Pharisi (sp) would want his messiah to do that. I must add a political note – much like the Republicans who think Jesus was the founder of capitalism (prosperity gospel), and view the concept of "social justice" as a communist plot. (OK – I'm going overboard – so no need to explode in replies to my stated political opinions.) I ask forgivness.

  • Anonymous

    I'm not sure where you are getting at. A Jesus without miracles is a fanasty of the enlightment. I think J.P. Meier got it right when he suggested that whether our positions on miracles lay, Jesus was known for doing them. Besides didn't Allison make a case for using reoccuring motiffs as evidence for the impression Jesus made on his followers?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Just to be clear, in this post I was trying to take David Fitzgerald's interpretation of 1Corinthians 1:22-23 and see if I could make the case that even if his interpretation were correct, it wouldn't lead naturally to mythicism. If the passage suggested that Jesus performed no miracles and offered no wisdom, would that more likely be a reference to a historical human being or a mythical celestial entity?But I don't understand the mythicist insistence on ignoring the Gospels. David says they seem to him to be allegories, and there certainly are stories that seem to be symbolic rather than factual, but I can't say that they resemble any works I have ever read that were allegories from start to finish. I think, for the most part, the refusal to sift through the Gospels for reliable nuggets of historical information stems from a misunderstanding of the scholarly principle that one gives priority to earlier sources. That doesn't mean that you avoid concord between the earliest ones and ones from a decade or so later whenever possibleand no matter how implausible the scenario that results may seem.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    In Paul's letters, Jesus is the pre-existent co-creator of the universe (1Cor8:6). He is also providing spiritual guidance to Israelites during the Exodus (1Cor10:4). After the alleged resurrection, he becomes the Savior of Christians and second to the Father. Therefore we would expect the incarnated Jesus on Earth (because descendants of Abraham, Jesse, David, and Israelites lived here only) to be extraordinary in deeds & teachings, as a god (the latter gospelers will describe him as such). Instead, from Paul's epistles, in a few words here & there, he is described as poor, humble, of no reputation, a man (with body & blood) and a Jew generated by a woman. No reported divine deeds and notable teachings. His crucifixion is said to be in weakness (2Cor13:4) (but as Christ) and Jesus is determined/marked_out/declared Son of God by his alleged resurrection (Rom1:4), that is only after his incarnated life.That means to me that Jesus was not a mythical god when on earth, but somebody real of little importance. If Jesus was known then to have done extraordinary things and being a great preacher, Paul would have used it in his letters. Instead, he made points from Jesus being human, poor, a Jew and a descendant of Abraham, Jesse & a woman.Bernard

  • Anonymous

    Well the death on the cross was scandalous. But he was raised to glory by the resurrection, because he was humble, God is exalted him.Besides, if it weren't for miracles than what sort of noterity would Jesus would have had? To quote Meier, "If Jesus was miracle free than he would have been remembered as a more upbeat John the Baptist."Miracles are crucial to Jesus' fame. You don't have to believe in them but Jesus, his disciples, and enemies all interpreted his deeds as miraculous (and sorcery).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04335917715944481443 Gary

    Prof McGrath,You were clear. Your original question "I want to ask which of the following is more likely, if we treat this statement as referring to Christ himself as having offered neither signs nor wisdom"…I understand you set boundary conditions on the question. I just found options 1) and 2) not acceptable to me personally, since it concedes a point I don't accept (although for academic purposes, I recognize your logic flow).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To Anonymous,The death on the cross was scandalous because Christ is supposed to show his stuff & power (and stay alive), not be executed. Also, someone crucified (as vulgar criminals & rebels were) could not have been the Chosen One!Humble people were executed by crucifixion. That does not mean they were exalted by God later.Of course, the belief of the alleged resurrectionstarted to divinize Jesus but now we are not talking about the earthly human Jesus anymore.I talked about extraordinary miracles (as not performed by Jesus). But I am certain Jesus got his notoriety by being credited of healing people (from minor ailments and diseases). More like an accidental healer. It all started in Capernaum when Jesus got Peter's mother-in-law out of bed and thereafter she was found not to have a fever anymore. Later, in some nearby village, somebody with a skin disease claimed to have been cured by Jesus. That started another hysteria. From that time, among the many who touched (or were touched by) Jesus, some were bound to claim healing. That was enough to make him widely known. And that's the start of the story. I have a page on that: http://historical-jesus.info/hjes2.htmlPaul was unlikely to report on this kind of "miracles" by Jesus, because they were many persons, even statues (and bubbling spring water Jn5:1-7) which were seemingly accomplishing the same things in antiquity. Even some Christians in Corinth were known for that (1Cor12:28). Furthermore, Paul, in the same passage, is not too impressed by those who have the gift of making miracles or performing healing: he placed them below apostles, prophets and teachers.Bernard

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nailed-Ten-Christian-Myths-That-Show-Jesus-Never-Existed-At-All/105120489555633?v=wall David Fitzgerald

    Many excellent points here! Thanks all, and thanks again to Dr. McGrath for continuing our dialogue. There's no question that our familiar Jesus being just one more relatively unremarkable wanna-be messiah from the first century is a perfectly reasonable default position. So why don't I think that's how it happened? Here's the problem I have the idea that Jesus was a stealth messiah whose modest exploits and teachings were buried under layers of legendary accretion:Over and over, not just in this verse, not even just from Paul; we find writers describing their Christ in mythological terms, while meanwhile they miss opportunity to mention his feats and teachings, something historians have long been puzzled by. What we see instead appears to along the same lines as Philo of Alexandria's blending of Judaism with Hellenistic thought, as well as blatant elements of a mystery faith, like a Lord's Supper. Even the handful of passages that could be interpreted as talking about an earthly Jesus are problematic, as I discuss in NAILED. In verse after verse, Paul tells us that his gospel from reading scripture and from revelation, and often makes remarks that his Jesus has been a secret, only recently revealed – by preachers like him!At the same time, in Paul's generation we already see that there are not only rival factions of the "true Christ" scattered all over the empire in places like Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, but numerous "False Christs" and "False Gospels" being preached, a warning also echoed in the Gospels. Though Paul, other Epistle authors and the early church fathers should have had plenty of evidence and anecdotes to share with his readers, we never get from him anything like what Luke puts in his mouth in Acts. Even Paul's trial transcripts in Acts (assuming they are not just more fiction in the first place) don't make sense if Jesus had been a popular teacher, to say nothing of miracle worker (or if he had returned from the dead!) And when we start finding multiple elements of his story in the original gospel (and the one all the successive gospels are taken from) are either grossly unhistorical, like his trial accounts, or actually purely symbolic (like Barabbas, the young naked boy who flees his arrest, and many more)it becomes hard to believe that there is a historical core hiding under it all.The conundrum I can't shake is that either Jesus was a real person whose exploits and teachings make no impression on a historical record that does document much less interesting figures from the same time; OR he was a much less well-known figure then all those other losers – and yet for some reason in a relatively short span of time inspires tiny feuding house churches across the Roman Empire hundreds of miles apart, launches the careers of scores of rival preachers and theologians, even rival Christs.When we take everything as a whole, I find it very difficult to believe that such a paradox could be solved by anything except that Christianity began as a Jewish version of the mystery faiths.-Dave Fitzgerald

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To David,According to my research, I do not see Jesus trying to be a Messiah, maybe except for his last days (considering the disturbance in the temple).What time period writers are you talking about? Because of the many obvious flaws in the gospels, the multiplication of them, etc. (causing their slow & progressive acceptance), it makes sense that many 2nd century writers avoided them up to Irenaeus. Regardless, parts of them surface in writings, some by Basilides, Valentinus, Aristides, Marcion, Justin Martyr, Ptolemy, Quadratus, etc., also in other writings, such as the Ignatian letters, epistle of the apostles, Didache, infancy gospels, gospel of Peter, etc. After Irenaeus (and his quasi-canonization of 4 gospels), the use of the gospels will intensify, but still some author will avoid them in some (or all) of their known works (Tertullian, Theophilus of Antioch, Minucius Felix etc.). And I also note the miraculous feedings (so huge and public) are not mentioned in Justin's works (which would have helped his case), although he wrote briefly about healing and resurrection by Jesus.There is no denial about the influence of Philo of Alexandria, but what does that have to to with the existence of a minimal Jesus?The Lord supper (or rather the add-ons to it)comes from the mind of Paul. That's what I explain on my page http://historical-jesus.info/hjes3.html. The line of thoughts that lead to it are very well explained by 1Cor5:6-8,6:15,10:15-16,18. Did Paul was also influenced by some cult rites? Maybe. But again, what does that have to do with HJ?I do not remember Paul dealing with a "secret Jesus". But he certainly wrote about secret/hidden God's wisdom & grand plan, which includes Christ's sacrifice and its value for salvation. Again, what's the relation with a HJ (or no HJ)?Sure, they were many variations of Christianity preached in the time of Paul. And maybe some were much closer to the real HJ than the one of Paul! For certain, some preachers were stressing Judaism and obedience in the Law. And HJ is described as a Jew (by Paul himself). Again what's the relevance with a HJ?Maybe I'll answer the rest later.Bernard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To David, part 2I do not understand what you mean about Paul and other epistle writers. I do not see why other authors should have reported some Paul's anecdotes, if it is what you mean. Are you questioning the existence of Paul?As for Paul's trials, I think it is largely fiction, because it is obviously driven to serve the author agenda. But I am certain that 'Acts' contains historical parts (including some anecdotes about Paul), among the fiction, errors, distortions and attempts of disinformation. That requires a lot of detailed analysis and comparaison with Paul's letters (more so 'Galatians'), even the gospel endings, to sort out the mess. Fortunatly, it has little value to spec HJ. But then, it is wrong to assume than an author should have say that here, and this there. Minds work differently for each persons. An author's mood, thoughts, agenda, motivation, audience cannot be the same than yours. You have to give those authors some freedom to operate, and not expect them addressing your own concerns (or neglecting them) (more than 1900 years later!).You are right about the parts you reject from the original gospel. A lot more of them can be also dismissed. But that does not preclude a historical true core cannot be found. Except if you can show that most or all clauses in Mark's gospel cannot be true. Actually, I think enough things make sense in the gospel to explain why an uneducated Galilean would be crucified in Jerusalem as "king of the Jews".You said the historical record does record less interesting figures. Yes but the historical record for Palestine for these times is very limited, and is mostly from Josephus. Again it all depends on what makes Josephus tick. He might find somebody with some significance, and then consider someone else not worth of writing about. Or for some other reasons, make a point to ignore a particular one. He was not an automat. For the rest of your paragraph, I explained how someone crucified as "king of the Jews" would become a god in http://historical-jesus.info/hjes3x.htmlBernard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    David, thank you for your comment. You seem to have access to historical information that the rest of us are doing without – how, for instance, do you know that there were competing Gospels with different Christs in Paul's generation? Paul himself certainly talks about a "different Gospel" in connection with the issue of circumcision and inclusion of Gentiles, but that seems to be something other than what you envisage. The one verse which might, excised from its context, could sound like it supports your assertion is in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul talks about a "different Jesus", a "different Gospel" and a "different Spirit". There are problems with what I understand to be your interpretation of this verse. First and foremost, Paul is addressing the Corinthians as though he still considers them to be Christians of the sort he seeks to persuade people to be. And so from this perspective alone, it is hard to take his language as a reference to competing religions, as opposed to other Christians with somewhat different views about Jesus and the Christian message. But secondly, there seems to be no clear evidence in the pre-Pauline period for the variety of "Christs" you refer to in your talk and in your posts (setting aside for now the fact that you seem to be talking about something other than "anointed ones" in the variety of ways that Jews used that term in the relevant period in history). If we had that evidence, I don't think anyone would dispute your claims. But we do not, and it seems to me that instead of interpreting what Paul (and others) wrote, with attention to detail in all the extant evidence, you are in fact making a case for what Paul could have meant if a variety of things for which we at present have no evidence were to turn out to be the case.You say that there are a handful of passages that could be interpreted as referring to an earthly Jesus. It is perhaps worth noting that there are only a handful of passages that can be taken as referring to a pre-existent heavenly figure, and the interpretation of them is not beyond dispute. James D. G. Dunn is one of several individuals who have challenged the tendency to find literal pre-existence in passages like Philippians 2:6-11. And so from the perspective of some New Testament scholars, your mythical Jesus might be evaluated as too influenced by an understanding of Paul that has read later Christian "orthodox" doctrines into texts that may not clearly teach them.I'll leave it at that for the moment, to try to keep the conversation focused – since if we continue it here, there may end up being several discussions taking place at once!

  • http://www.facebook.com/?tid=1712182117892&sk=messages#!/profile.php?id=609671591 David Fitzgerald

    Dr. McGrath:Thanks for your response. A couple of things here:You ask how I know there were competing Gospels with different Christs in Paul's generation. First, it’s quite possible we’re only splitting hairs, since further down you question if passages like 1 Cor. 11 (I presume this is just a typo, and you meant to say 2 Cor. 11 instead – unless you meant 1 Cor. 1:10-13?) are a reference to competing religions, as opposed to other Christians with somewhat different views about Jesus and the Christian message. I want to make it clear I am talking about the variety of competing Christ movements, not rival religions per se. I think you’ll agree that Paul complains of this, in several places, and the complaint is hardly restricted to his generation. In Gal. 1: 6-9, he warns the Galatians against turning to a false gospel, preached by rivals that he curses, and in 2 Cor. he goes further and says these false apostles are agents of Satan (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He even accuses the Jerusalem council of having false believers (Gal. 2:4). And yes, since 2 Cor. 11:4 explicitly has Paul complaining against those that preach “another Jesus,” or receive “another spirit” or “another gospel” I have no difficulty in accepting that that is precisely what he is talking about – rival apostles who learned of their Christ just as Paul is constantly telling us he learned his gospel, through scriptural exegesis.Even those early believers that Paul accepts as “true apostles” are already divided into factions. Paul himself complains about the diversity among early believers, who incredibly treat Christ as just one more factional totem figure, some saying they belong to Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas – or to Christ, leading him to ask “Has Christ been divided?” (1 Cor. 1:10-13). And we see an echo of this in the Gospels, who say many first-century exorcists cast out demons in the name of Christ – but pointedly, not the Christ of Jesus’ followers (Matthew 7:21-23, Mark 9:38, Luke 9:49). And incidentally, I should point out that we do have evidence of other Pre-Pauline “lords.” Paul uses a term from the pagan mystery cults, kuriakon deipnon, “the Lord’s Supper,” for the ritual he claimed came exclusively to him, straight from the heavenly Christ. The similarity was so great that Paul expressly forbids his followers from participating in pagan sacred meals: “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons!” (1 Cor. 10:21). Paul admits there are many so-called gods and Kyrioi, and has to remind his flock in Corinth that for them, there is just one God, the Father, and just one Kyrios, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 8:5-6). Secondly, you say there are only a handful of passages that can be taken as referring to a pre-existent heavenly figure. If “pre-existent” is the operative word, I don’t really argue with that. But this misses the point: in speech after speech in Acts, Christian apostles start with the man Jesus, recalling his miracles and teachings, and declaring their faith in him. Likewise, the Gospels painstakingly detail (often in contradiction to each other) Jesus’ deeds on Earth, but we are not given any peek into what happened on the spiritual plane. In the NT Epistles this is entirely reversed. Over and over we hear about his activities and accomplishments across the various Heavens (Hebrews 4:14; Eph. 3:10, 4:10), into the depths of the realm of the dead (1 Peter 3:19, Eph. 4:8-9), his accomplishments at the primordial dawn of creation (Col.1:15-17; Heb. 1:2, 2:10), and all his mighty supernatural aspects (Rom. 14:9; Col. 1:19, 2:9-10,15; 1 Peter 3:22; I John 2:1, etc.) – but no details about any time spent on Earth. Not only are there no more than a handful of verses that could be interpreted as referring to an earthly Jesus, but even these very few don’t hold up to examination (as I discuss in chapters 8 & 9 of NAILED)All the best,-Dave Fitzgerald

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks for replying. I'm not sure what your point about mystery religions was – I presume it was not that, simply because more than one religious tradition used "Lord" there must be some direct influence of one upon the other or direct connection between them. But even if Paul or someone before him drew directly and extensively on Mystery Religions, that wouldn't necessarily have any bearing on the central question we're discussing, since there is no particular reason why a religion focused on a real person could not draw on mystery religions.I personally think you are making too much of the lack of biographical details about Jesus in Paul's letters. There are very few biographical details about Paul himself, after all. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18033875369678939413 Bernard

    To David,I must say I would mostly agree with you about what you said in you first four paragraphs.You wrote about gospels not dealing with a pre-existent heavenly Christ. Yes but there in an exception (Jn1:1-5). For the Synoptics, I saw no evidence for belief of pre-existence in them, so of course no previous deeds in the spiritual plane are mentioned. I do not see why the gospels should cover Christ's deeds in the heavens after the alleged resurrection. Regardless, those gospels sometimes does that, in Mt28:18 and (as prophecies) in Mk13:24-26 & Jn14:2. Acts has flash back on the earthly Jesus but that's to be expected (more so with Acts & gLuke written by the same person). So, I do not see any problem here.I do not agree that in some of the epistles there are no clear mentions of an earthly and human Jesus (and more than a handful!). Bernard

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    Dr. McGrath"I personally think you are making too much of the lack of biographical details about Jesus in Paul's letters."For me, it's not the lack of biographical details, it's the lack of any details when there is an expectation of citing Jesus or attributing something to Jesus when Paul is discussing something that is strongly equated with Jesus or his ministry. I listed several of examples recently on a link you posted of Mark Goodacre's discussion of Mythicism so I won't repeat them here.But I'm not surprised that Paul doesn't begin any of his letters with: "Once upon a time there was a man named Joseph who married a pretty little thing named Mary." Dr. McGrath"There are very few biographical details about Paul himself, after all."I'm not sure why we should expect more. Paul was selling, first and foremost, Jesus, not himself.I'm not religious at this point in my life so I don't lose any sleep or whether Jesus was historical or not but I do find these discussions really interesting and am glad that the dialog continues.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Kilo Papa, thanks for your comment. From my perspective, Paul's failure to say "Jesus said" or "not I, but the Lord" except very rarely when providing teaching can be explained in several ways.1) Paul was writing letters to address new issues, not recap things the rercipients already knew.2) Paul had no idea what Jesus actually taught, or at least didn't know which Christian teaching he had received came from Jesus.3) Paul's own teaching in his letters resembles that attributed to Jesus in the Gospels because Paul's teaching gets mistaken for Jesus' and included there.4) Paul's Jesus is a mythical, heavenly figure.I honestly don't understand why option #4 is felt by mythicists to be a better explanation for what we find in Paul's letters. If Paul is talking about a figure whom he knows only through spiritual experiences and who exists only in a celestial realm, why doesn't he claim that more of his own teaching is in fact revealed to him by that figure? Historians are looking not merely for possible scenarios, but ones that make the best sense of relevant data with the fewest ad hoc assumptions brought in. I still don't see that mythicism provides that, either in relation to the specific aspect of Paul's letters discussed in your comment and mine, or in relation to Jesus as referred to in Paul's letters more generally.


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