by Neil Godfrey
James McGrath appears to have conceded the possibility that Earl Doherty may (perhaps only theoretically) be right when he wrote:
Even if one granted that by “according to the Scriptures” Paul might have meant “according to what I have read in and derived from the Scriptures,” that would still not be incompatible with his understanding the Scriptures in questions as predictions of or applying to a historical Jesus
Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant, since he later corrects any possible misunderstanding of his position by adding that the dominant view among biblical scholars is something else:
the dominant view, which is that the early Christians had persuaded themselves, wrongly of course, that the death and resurrection of Jesus were foreseen in Scripture, and that that is what Paul is referring to here.
[Since posting the above James McGrath has expressed concern that I misrepresented his stance, so to avoid any suspicion that I was implying McGrath holds a view he does not hold, let me repeat more prominently what I said just now:
Not that McGrath believes for a minute that this is what Paul meant . . . . ]
Surprisingly McGrath does not also explain that the first evidence that Christians came to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection were foreseen in the scriptures appears only quite some time after Paul wrote, and that the argument that Paul himself meant this is entirely an extrapolation from the mainstream model of Christian origins.
But anyway, I found Doherty’s response worth a read. What if Paul did mean to say that he learned about Christ from reading the Scriptures? Would this really impact the assumption that Jesus was historical and not entirely a figure understood through Scriptural revelation?
1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says “Christ died for our sins according to [as we learn from] the scriptures” and that “he was raised on the third day according to [as we learn from] the scriptures”.
Let’s see: “Christ died for our sins.” Hmmm, an historical Jesus could be known to have died, his death might even have been witnessed and told of in oral tradition, but ‘dying for sin’? Who could tell that just by witnessing Calvary? OK, maybe 15:3 means Paul got this interpretation of Jesus’ historical death from scripture.
But then we have “he was raised on the third day.” For Paul to reasonably claim that he got this from scripture, no historical resurrection on Easter Sunday could have taken place, no visitation in bodily form to any followers on earth. We’re giving ground here, since that means all the appearances represent visionary experiences (or even less).
But then we face the predicament of having no physical or witnessed resurrection (except in scripture) to impel the new faith movement.
A crucified criminal dies on Calvary, is thrown into a grave and no one ever sees him again, except it is claimed in visions. Is that really enough to get countless Jews and gentiles across half the empire to accept that man as the divine Son of the God of Abraham, creator and sustainer of the universe, redeemer of humanity by his death and guarantor of their own resurrection? (It wouldn’t do that much for me. A claim of merely rising to some sort of heaven in spirit form after death wouldn’t gain any headlines in the ancient world. It was a fairly common idea in one form or another, except perhaps among the Sadducees.)
Having given up that ground, we get closer to accepting the obvious meaning of a passage like Romans 16:25-26 in which Christ the Son is stated as being an entity revealed after long ages of being unknown, through the scriptures.
That passage also tells us that scripture did not prophesy the figure and life of Jesus, but Paul’s gospel about him.
A host of other passages in the epistles, difficult to reconcile with historicism, suddenly fall into place as well, all pointing in the same direction. And so on…
You see . . . . when you have a house of cards, disturbing one of them can bring the whole contraption tumbling down. So I welcome your rethinking of the meaning of “kata tas graphas” in 1 Cor. 15:3-4.