Paul’s Human Jesus

Paul’s Human Jesus December 4, 2014

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul makes a contrast between two human beings, Adam and Jesus. One is mythical. Is the other? And did Paul think that one or both of them were mythical?

Interestingly, on this point, if none other, concerns of young-earth creationists and mythicists intersect.

Is “human” ever applied without qualification to beings that are thought to exist purely in the celestial realm? Certainly we have instances of people seeing “men” but the interpretation is that they were “angels.” But those are instances of appearances of angels in the world. We know that there were docetists who claimed that Jesus merely appeared to be human in the world. But mythicism says that Jesus never walked the Earth at all, and that Paul never thought of Jesus as one who was seen on Earth except in visions.

So does 1 Corinthians 15:21 fit with that? Is  ἄνθρωπος ever used for a purely celestial being, without some qualification specifying that the term is not being used in its usual sense?

While it might be said in response that Paul at one point refers to Jesus as the “heavenly” man, that is something that Paul says about the risen Jesus. The image of the heavenly man is the nature of the risen Jesus which Paul says that awaits others.

The resurrection emphasis in Paul’s letters is probably one of the strongest arguments against mythicism there is. In Judaism, resurrection was expected to happen to human beings. We have no references to purely celestial beings being raised from the dead. Indeed, it is doubtful that the concept would have made any sense to first century Jews. Paul states time and again that Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the first of humankind. And so here too, mythicism’s understanding of what Paul meant, if not impossible, is a meaning of the texts that is at odds with what a variety of words and technical terms normally meant in Paul’s context, and so, because Paul does not clarify that he is using those words in unconventional ways, he ought to be understood as saying something consonant with their usual meaning in his context. And that is the meaning that mainstream scholars ascribe to him.

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