Does Paul Quote Jesus? A Quick Look & a Fascinating Observation

Does Paul Quote Jesus? A Quick Look & a Fascinating Observation March 23, 2023

Does Paul Quote Jesus?

A Quick Look &
a Fascinating Observation

James Ishmael Ford

Someone recently observed in my hearing that Paul never quotes Jesus in his collected and published letters. I was caught by that observation and decided to dig into it. I proceeded to unravel a couple of facts out of the mess of the Christian scriptures.

First, the assertion isn’t precisely true.

There’s a very interesting quote at 1 Timothy 5:18, where the writer cites “Scripture” but then offers a quote that appears to echo a saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. It’s about treating laborers fairly and not cheating them of their wages. The quote, however, offers a number of problems.

It needs to be noted the normative view among mainstream Biblical scholars is that the so-called Pastoral Epistles, which include the letters of Timothy along with Titus, are not the composition of the author of the rest of the letters attributed to Paul. Rather they come much later and are interestingly concerned with what happens when Jesus did not return from the dead in the five minutes that the other letters assumed.

Second, when the letters were being written both the originals mostly by Paul and these by the second Paul, there was no New Testament, and so “Scripture” meant the received tradition of the Jewish community. So an interesting double conundrum for those concerned with when and whether Paul quoted Jesus.

In Acts 20:35 we have Luke quoting Paul quoting Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It has no corresponding citation in the canonical gospels. And it has its own double conundrum in that it isn’t by Paul, but by Luke quoting Paul quoting Jesus. One may make of that what one will.

Less ambiguously, in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Paul appears to quote Jesus prohibiting divorce. It echoes Jesus sayings recorded in Mark 10:11-12 and Matthew 19:8-9. One can make of that what one will.

Finally, in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 Paul directly and unambiguously quotes Jesus. The saying is attested in all three of the synoptics at Mark 14:22-24, Matthew 26:26-28, and Luke 22:19-20.

For I received from the Lord what I also handed to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

While it isn’t precisely true that Paul never quoted Jesus, it is strangely rare. Discounting Timothy, as that almost certainly was not written by Paul, we are left with an orphan quote not confirmed in the gospels, a reference to divorce, and the words of institution of the communion service.

I find myself with a couple of takeaways from this.

First is that whatever Paul’s project was, it had only a passing connection to the life and teachings of Jesus. It is a religion “about” Jesus and not particularly concerned with Jesus’ own religion and what he said. A hard fact on the ground.

And second, as someone deeply interested in the Christian communion service, the Eucharist, the Mass, is how something mysterious and beautiful at the very origins of the Christian story joins that religion about Jesus with the religion of Jesus.

***

for those who want to dig a bit deeper into the connections between Paul & Jesus, I suggest Professor James Tabor. The good professor is controversial, and on occasion has aligned himself with, well, cranks. But, his formal academic work is impressive…

 

"Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the 'World Is One Family' was a profound belief for sages and ..."

Recalling Ram Mohan Roy who coined ..."
"Thank you for sharing this insightful reflection on the paths we choose in life. The ..."

When You Come to a Fork ..."
"What a paradox - Anne Aitken made so many intentional choices in her life, leading ..."

When You Come to a Fork ..."
"Thank you for sharing your reflections from the Unitarian Universalist clergy retreat. Your insights into ..."

So, What is Spirituality About?

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!