2013-03-20

Why did Paul need to write letters?

by Neil Godfrey

Another provocative (and thought-provoking) Carr-ism, this one recently posted as a comment on Questioning Paul’s Letters. . . .

But I have been looking at scholarly arguments that maintain Paul’s letters were, indeed, carefully crafted works of theological instructions that were composed in the form of occasional correspondence.

Why did Paul need to write letters? We already know that oral tradition was enough to answer questions by Christians about whether Jesus had turned the water into wine in Galilee or in Jerusalem, and to answer Christian questions about who exactly the 12 disciples were and to answer Christian questions about what Jesus had preached about divorce.

But strangely, as soon as it comes to answering Christian questions about practice in churches or all the other problems that Paul had to deal with, these oral channels suddenly become unavailable, and Paul has to write letters answering these questions. Those problems could not be dealt with by oral transmission.

And as soon as Christians stop asking questions about practice in churches or other stuff Paul deals with, and start to ask questions about what Jesus had told people to pray and whether or not Jesus had preached about giving tithes, these oral channels open up again, and Paul has no longer a need to write letters. Those problems could be dealt with by oral transmission.

Remarkable, isn’t it?

Comment by Steven Carr — 2013/03/20 @ 7:53 am

49 Comments

  • RoHa
    2013-03-20 08:10:39 UTC - 08:10 | Permalink

    Why did Paul need to write letters?

    Duuuhh!

    There were no phones or e-mail in those days.

    • 2013-03-20 17:12:29 UTC - 17:12 | Permalink

      And no oral channels of communication?

    • 2013-03-21 03:51:41 UTC - 03:51 | Permalink

      +1 RoHa.

      Reporter: “Why do you rob banks?”

      Robber: “Because that’s where the money is”.

      • 2013-03-21 04:11:08 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

        That’s often attributed to Willie Sutton. But sadly, some “hyper-skeptical” people think he never said it. (Sutton himself denied ever saying it.) But why would anybody make it up?

        http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/02/10/where-money-is/

      • 2013-03-21 07:28:25 UTC - 07:28 | Permalink

        Are you saying there was no money in oral communication? RoHa seems to be scoffing at the idea that Paul could have solved any problems people had by using these fabled methods of oral communication which transmitted perfect knowledge about Jesus, but left Paul having to write letters to cope with the confusion caused by Christians talking to each other about what he had meant.

        • RoHa
          2013-03-21 09:58:55 UTC - 09:58 | Permalink

          “RoHa seems to be scoffing at the idea that Paul …”

          No, I was making a joke on the headline. I actually think that you have a very good point there.

    • 2013-03-21 04:34:28 UTC - 04:34 | Permalink

      Why write a bunch of contradictory letters rather than one fairly consistent book like Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion or the Catechism of the Catholic Church? The forgers of the Pauline epistles not only make Paul contradict himself between letters, but in the same letter: Romans 2 contradicts all of Romans 3-9 (Except maybe chapter 6); or you could look at it the other way, Romans 3-9 contradicts Romans 2. What I find amazing is that any religious leader would write a bunch of long-winded, convoluted epistles that would take 2000 years to interpret and still be unclear, rather than one clear document arranged topically! It seems more likely that the apostles never wrote anything and that later generations (dumb people in those generations) made up for the lack of NT scripture by writing haphazardly whatever entered their mind in the form of fake letters.

      • Willie Buck Merle
        2013-03-24 02:57:31 UTC - 02:57 | Permalink

        Concur with your Romans analysis. Circumcision anyone? Added bonus: go to wikipedia for ‘book of romans’ and see the NT Wright glurge therein.

  • 2013-03-20 08:11:50 UTC - 08:11 | Permalink

    I’m struggling to see any insight or thought-provoking content in this comment. I am not trying to be obtuse but it is entirely vacuous.

    • 2013-03-20 17:13:38 UTC - 17:13 | Permalink

      In other words, I was simply pointing out what mainstream Biblical historians claim happened. Their thoughts on why Paul needed to write letters are ‘entirely vacuous’ and lack ‘any insight’.

    • 2013-03-20 17:27:06 UTC - 17:27 | Permalink

      Let’s say that you find the comment “entirely vacuous” but I find it raises very pertinent questions.

      It opens the inconsistencies and the arbitrariness of the way scholars pull out the “oral tradition” card to cover over the problems in their hypotheses. If oral tradition was the way Christians communicated their faith, and that this was so to the extent that written tracts of the same messages were superfluous, then it follows that Paul had no need to pass on so-called teachings of Jesus in his letters, or the understanding of the “Christ event” in his letters, either.

      • 2013-03-20 20:18:34 UTC - 20:18 | Permalink

        Okay I see. Well for that point to stand you will, well, need to engage with the point that scholarship makes that the story of Jesus is only recalled by Paul either when it is serving to counter a specific heresy ( e.g. docetism), or when it is raised to make an ethical point: so be humbled just as Christ was humble when he was crucified. When Christ’s life is mentioned it is mention as ancillary concern, never on its own. When he does mention it he presumes that they are familiar with what he is saying about Christ, but he is reminding them of the implications of it, i.e. Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most extended passages where Paul recounts events from Jesus’ life, but why is it raised? To remind them to adopt the attitude of Christ. He doesn’t think they don’t know the story, he is raising it for an ethical point.

        I have just been studying the use of exemplum in Philo, Seneca and Epictetus. You see the exact same thing. For Seneca and Epictetus the key, the vital person is Socrates. If you look at Socrates you can see how to act correctly. Now both Seneca and Epictetus are evidently sharing many sources on Socrates’ life, some of which are known to us, and some of which are now no longer extant. His life is every important to them, they expect their students (or friends in the case of Seneca) to read about him, indeed to memorize his life. But in their letters and lectures they never give a plotted summary of his life, they only raise aspects of it when, like Paul, they are trying to issue ethical reminders to them. It doesn’t mean that they dont care or aren’t aware of Socrates’ life, or that they think their audience aren’t entirely aware of the events that they are talking about, but a particular instance makes mentioning it apposite. Apart from these references though they rely on their students to keep reminding themselves about Socrates’ life on their own. Why bother repeating stories that they all know unless there is a particular issue that necessitates they bring forward aspects of it. Steve could make the same silly snarky comment regarding them and claim some wide ignorance of Classical scholars.

        • 2013-03-20 22:06:11 UTC - 22:06 | Permalink

          I think what Erlend is trying to say is that Seneca has chapters and chapters of ‘quotes’ of Socrates.

          ‘Seneca has Socrates speak at length, including the following (VB 25.4):

          Make me conqueror of all the world. Have that luxurious chariot of Liber carry me in triumph from the rising of the sun all the way to Thebes.…I will be thinking of myself as human precisely when I am greeted by one and all as a god. Then follow this lofty pedestal with a radical transformation. Let me be placed on someone else’s float to decorate the procession of a fierce and arrogant conqueror. I will not be carried any more humbly beneath another’s chariot than I would if I had stood in my own. So? I nevertheless prefer to conquer than to be captured.

          When the text breaks off several chapters later, Socrates is still speaking.’

          http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Of_a_Happy_Life/Book_XXV

          But Seneca has chapter after chapter after chapter of Socrates speaking, while Paul has not one chapter devoted to what Jesus said.

          And Epictetus casually mentions what Socrates did ‘ For remember that in this manner Socrates also universally avoided all ostentation. And when persons came to him and desired to be recommended by him to philosophers, he took and- recommended them, so well did he bear being overlooked.’

          The fact remains – if oral transmission was so good at transmitting knowledge among early Christians, why did Paul need to write letters?

          • Erlend
            2013-03-21 04:50:47 UTC - 04:50 | Permalink

            Steven,

            You have misunderstood, Socrates is not actually speaking in the Happy Life. It is a depiction of what he would say, i.e. what his life would say. Hence he talks about philosopher who were born 150 years after him! Seneca is not trying to make people think he is quoting Socrates.

            Again, Socrates is hugely important for Epictetus, but he only quotes or references him to support a point he is making. He knows all his students are aware about Socrates’ life, in fact he tells them to study it. But he never narrates it for them on its own account but only quotes him when he is challenging someone on what they have got wrong, or to encourage them to act virtuously. It is the same with Paul. He doesn’t narrate the story of Jesus, he will just appeal to it when he is challenging errant behavior or beliefs. This is how exempla worked in antiquity.

            “The fact remains – if oral transmission was so good at transmitting knowledge among early Christians, why did Paul need to write letters?”

            If the hundreds of Stoic books were so good at telling people how to live and what their philosophy was about why did Seneca construct his letters to Lucillius, Why did Arrian record Epictetus’ lectures? Why did Philodemus have to write to Epicureans in Rhodes about errors that they were making? Why, when Epicurus was meant to be the person they were to follow to the letter are there no Epicurean recounts of Epicurus life? Just occasional flashes when he is used to bolster a particular argument?

            • 2013-03-21 07:14:42 UTC - 07:14 | Permalink

              ‘ He doesn’t narrate the story of Jesus, he will just appeal to it when he is challenging errant behavior or beliefs.’

              Where?

              And Seneca clearly does not regard what the historical Socrates as an authority , by your own admission. ‘Seneca is not trying to make people think he is quoting Socrates.’

              ‘Reproach Plato with having sought for money, reproach Aristotle with having obtained it, Democritus with having disregarded it, Epicurus with having spent it:’

              Gosh, I thought ancient authors never told anybody what anybody had ever done, as everybody already knew what everybody had done. And yet your chosen authors mention all these details of people’s lives.

              To be honest, I don’t understand your point. Are you saying there was oral transmission of the life of Socrates just like there was oral transmission of the life of Jesus? Or that there were written accounts of the life of Jesus just like Seneca knew he could rely on people reading written accounts of the life of Socrates?

              ‘Why did Philodemus have to write to Epicureans in Rhodes about errors that they were making? ‘

              Duh, because oral transmission was not present?

              The fact remains that mainstream Biblical scholars insist Paul had to write letters when dealing with disputes in churches, and had to rely on oral transmission if there were any disputes over the meaning of what Jesus had said. And they never ask themselves why these fabulous oral channels failed to the extent that Paul had to write letters.

              This is -, I quote your words – ‘vacuous’.

              ‘Why, when Epicurus was meant to be the person they were to follow to the letter are there no Epicurean recounts of Epicurus life?’

              But there *are* Christian records of the life of Jesus, so that sentence had literally no relevance to anything. But Paul does not put chapter after chapter after chapter of words in the mouth of a Jesus the way Seneca puts chapter after chapter after chapter of words into the mouth of a Socrates.

              I now have officially no idea what your point is. This is because you don’t have one.

              • Erlend
                2013-03-21 10:01:06 UTC - 10:01 | Permalink

                I think I have now realized why I have been warned not to get into a discussion with you Steve. You master obtuseness to the point that it is a fine art. I dont know whether it is a conscious but you have nasty snide streak that is unbecoming.

                “And Seneca clearly does not regard what the historical Socrates as an authority , by your own admission. ‘Seneca is not trying to make people think he is quoting Socrates.’”

                Sigh. He doesn’t quote Socrates in +that+ particular passage Steve, but he does see him as an authorative character. If you want to see how Seneca regards Socrates as such a figure the list of studies on this runs to around a dozen scholarly articles or chapters.

                “‘Reproach Plato with having sought for money, reproach Aristotle with having obtained it, Democritus with having disregarded it, Epicurus with having spent it:’ Gosh, I thought ancient authors never told anybody what anybody had ever done, as everybody already knew what everybody had done. And yet your chosen authors mention all these details of people’s lives”

                This comment pretty much sums up your debating tactics…

                “‘Why did Philodemus have to write to Epicureans in Rhodes about errors that they were making? ‘

                Duh, because oral transmission was not present?”

                I can’t even tell if this is a sarcastic comment or if you just don’t know anything about this topic. But please familiarize yourself with the context of Philodemus’ critique.

                “The fact remains that mainstream Biblical scholars insist Paul had to write letters when dealing with disputes in churches, and had to rely on oral transmission if there were any disputes over the meaning of what Jesus had said. And they never ask themselves why these fabulous oral channels failed to the extent that Paul had to write letters.”

                They didn’t fail. Most issues that Paul writes about are ancillary issues, or issues that are not related to Jesus’ life; i.e. circumcision, lusting or greedy parishioners, docetism. You’re question seems to be based on the mistaken assumption that the three year ministry of Jesus holds the totality of answers for every question that a Church could have. The idea that if Christians knew the stories about Jesus there was, well, just nothing to write letters about is fanciful. Like the Stoics I mentioned, who believed that all of Socrates’ life showed people exactly how to live, they didn’t stop sending letters to their student saying to them how they had gone wrong, encouraging them and occasionally lifting up stories from Socrates’ life. Philodemus records that just a generation after Epicurus’ life, despite having hundreds of his books, arguments came about regarding their interpretation, who was right and who was heretical, who was a proper teacher and invested with the correct tradition and who was not. People had to write to each other and sort it out. Having a tradition, even once fixed in writing, doesn’t mean you cease the need for strongly worded letters, debates over interpretation and so forth.

                “‘Why, when Epicurus was meant to be the person they were to follow to the letter are there no Epicurean recounts of Epicurus life?’

                But there *are* Christian records of the life of Jesus, so that sentence had literally no relevance to anything”

                My apologies. I phrased the sentence ambiguously. What I mean to say is why, when the earliest Epicurean texts that claim to be following Epicurus so carefully, do they only occasionally mention certain events as a mere aside to their arguments with each other/outsiders? Why haven’t we got this marvelous sources (written or oral) that they are using. It can be made to look just as suspicious as you are trying to make the Christian tradition look. But perhaps you are employed in a complete reappraisal of all such groups in antiquity? When do we get your post on the Platonic school and the ignorant contemporary Platonic scholars and their biases?

              • 2013-03-21 11:20:24 UTC - 11:20 | Permalink

                Erland, Steve has not used words like “snide”and “nasty” in addressing you. If you find his comments offensive then point out precisely what remarks of his are offensive. He does laconically direct his words to what he sees as the fundamental logic of the scholarly argument, cutting through the rationalization that otherwise tends to obfuscate the inconsistencies. If you believe his argument is invalid then address the argument without imputing negative character judgments.

              • 2013-03-21 16:07:35 UTC - 16:07 | Permalink

                ‘ Philodemus records that just a generation after Epicurus’ life, despite having hundreds of his books, arguments came about regarding their interpretation, who was right and who was heretical, who was a proper teacher and invested with the correct tradition and who was not.’

                And Paul records that just after a generation after Jesus’s life, despite having none of his books, arguments came about regarding interpretation of the teachings of Jesus, who was right and who was heretical, who was a proper teacher and invested with the correct tradition and who was not.

                And every single one of the arguments about the interpretation of Jesus’s teachings could be sorted out by oral channels , while if there were disputes about what Paul had taught, then he had to write letters, as these fabulous oral channels were incapable of dealing with those problems, while functioning perfectly for passing on details of what Jesus had taught….

              • KevinC
                2013-03-25 22:19:19 UTC - 22:19 | Permalink

                Erlend wrote: “They didn’t fail. Most issues that Paul writes about are ancillary issues, or issues that are not related to Jesus’ life; i.e. circumcision, lusting or greedy parishioners, docetism.”

                But would Jesus’ life be unrelated to these issues? Was Jesus circumcised? If yes, Paul’s opponents would have had a club to beat him with, and he would have had to explain why Jesus’ circumcision was not a model for all Christians to follow. If no, Paul would have had a club to beat his opponents with, which surely would be used when he’s attacking their position and telling them to go the whole way and emasculate themselves. Did Jesus say anything about lust or greed for money? Did Jesus live a life that would offer any guidance for his followers in how to relate to money and possessions?

                With regard to docetism, could Paul not point out that Jesus was not merely “born of woman” like the Child in the Book of Revelation or any of half a dozen Mystery School god-men, but of a particular woman with a name who was either a member of the community or one of its honored dead? Or that one of the people he argued against was Jesus’ own brother, who knew him his whole life?*

                The “details” Paul gives about Jesus’ biography are so stripped of Earthly context that they can easily be interpreted favorably to docetism, especially when Paul does things like say he was given the name “Jesus” after his resurrection rather than at birth in Bethlehem, that Jesus created the Universe, and so on. If Paul trying to refute docetism, he does a very weak job of it, given the ammo he would have had piled all around him if the historicist scholars are correct.

                If Paul and/or his opponents believed that Jesus was “wholly God and wholly man” or anything close to that, then Jesus’ Earthly life (if he had one) would be relevant to everything. His every action would have been a direct manifestation of Divinity in action, and utterly authoritative. If Paul and/or his opponents had access to oral traditions about Jesus’ life, the content those traditions would bear heavily on their arguments. How could they not?

                *The “brother of the Lord” reference in Galatians is often held up as a strong indicator of a filial relationship between James and Jesus. Unfortunately it’s said in passing in a discussion unrelated to docetism and that interpretation is not ironclad. If Jesus had a human family, at least one of which was a prominent leader Paul knew personally, that seems like the sort of thing that would come out crystal clear if and when Paul ever tried to address docetism. If he was in favor of docetism, he would have needed to explain his way around Jesus’ biological family. If he was against it, “You guys know that James is Jesus’ brother, right? And his mother Mary is known to you…” would have squashed docetism like the Monty Python foot.

        • 2013-03-20 22:07:33 UTC - 22:07 | Permalink

          Where did people learn about the life of Socrates? Through reading Plato? Or by oral transmission of stories about his life?

          • Erlend
            2013-03-21 04:52:58 UTC - 04:52 | Permalink

            Plato, Xenophon and a source that is similar to Q in that it pops up in later accounts of the person [as in Seneca and Epictetus] but we don’t know anything about it. There are also stories that they tell that are unique to each author, i.e. Epictetus tells us about Socrates writing, this is though a story only known to him. It would be wrong to just think it was Plato’s account that told him about Socrates.

        • Geoff
          2013-03-20 23:33:22 UTC - 23:33 | Permalink

          Your example of Philippians 2:5-11 is an inrersting choice, which when examined closely might rebound against your point.

          • Geoff
            2013-03-21 11:24:05 UTC - 11:24 | Permalink

            Let me extend this some:

            “Philippians 2:5-11 is one of the most extended passages where Paul recounts events from Jesus’ life, but why is it raised? To remind them to adopt the attitude of Christ.”

            In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

            6 Who, being in very nature God,

            did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

            7 rather, he made himself nothing

            by taking the very nature of a servant,

            being made in human likeness.

            8 And being found in appearance as a man,

            he humbled himself

            by becoming obedient to death—

            even death on a cross!

            9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

            and gave him the name that is above every name,

            10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

            in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

            11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

            to the glory of God the Father.

            What name did God give to Jesus? What was his name before God gave him the name above every other name? What specific human details does Paul relate in this passage? From this passage, Paul believes Jesus to be one with God (“equality with God”), a rather giant leap from the obscure preacher-prophet advanced as the “Historical Jesus.” Jesus “takes the nature of a servant.” Is this a biographical datum? “Being made in human likeness?” “Found in appearance as a man?” Where is the biographical data in this passage that you describe as “one of the most extended passages where Paul recounts [RECOUNTS, even!] events from Jesus’ life. There is only one datum that I can see: Jesus died on a cross.

            This virtually makes Steven’s point for him.

            • Geoff
              2013-03-21 11:48:55 UTC - 11:48 | Permalink

              Why, instead of recounting a more specific story of Jesus’ humility, perhaps the washing of his disciple’s feet or his anguish in Gethsemane or any story with actual details, does Paul instead relate established tradition referring to a deity, a clearly mythological being, equal with God, only appearing to be like a human? This is an odd reference to establish that Paul knew details about the man, Jesus of Nazareth, but chose not to relate them because everyone “already knew them.” Yet and still, if you ever hear someone quoting their guru cult leader, you will see that their language drips with references to the Teacher/guru. Listen, for example, to Ramona Africa. How many times in a single speech does she say, “As John Africa taught us…” How many times does Paul make such a reference? Read Scientologists and ex-Scientologists discuss the teachings of LRH. References to “Elron” abound. Elron’s writings and words are authority. Where is the authority of Jesus’ ministry in the writings of Paul?

            • 2013-03-21 17:33:37 UTC - 17:33 | Permalink

              And even that datum “died on a cross” is a theological statement. For Paul it is a theologically defined phrase. I suspect one will be hard pressed to find a single instance where Paul refers to it as an historical event. Always it is a theological claim.

            • 2013-03-23 10:49:10 UTC - 10:49 | Permalink

              “There is only one datum that I can see: Jesus died on a cross.”

              Or on a stake. Or a tree….Or something like the Axis Mundi.

        • Evan
          2013-03-21 00:45:44 UTC - 00:45 | Permalink

          His life is every important to them, they expect their students (or friends in the case of Seneca) to read about him, indeed to memorize his life. But in their letters and lectures they never give a plotted summary of his life, they only raise aspects of it when, like Paul, they are trying to issue ethical reminders to them.

          This is something I found in about 20 seconds of looking from De Vita Beata by Seneca.

          “Behold! from that prison of his, which by entering he cleansed from shame and rendered more honourable than any senate house, Socrates addresses you, saying: ‘What is this madness of yours? what is this disposition, at war alike with gods and men, which leads you to calumniate virtue and to outrage holiness with malicious accusations? Praise good men, if you are able: if not, pass them by in silence: if indeed you take pleasure in this offensive abusiveness, fall foul of one another: for when you rave against Heaven, I do not say that you commit sacrilege, but you waste your time. I once afforded Aristophanes with the subject of a jest: since then all the crew of comic poets have made me a mark for their envenomed wit: my virtue has been made to shine more brightly by the very blows which have been aimed at it, for it is to its advantage to be brought before the public and exposed to temptation, nor do any people understand its greatness more than those who by their assaults have made trial of its strength. The hardness of flint is known to none so well as to those who strike it. I offer myself to all attacks, like some lonely rock in a shallow sea, which the waves never cease to beat upon from whatever quarter they may come, but which they cannot thereby move from its place nor yet wear away, for however many years they may unceasingly dash against it. Bound upon me, rush upon me, I will overcome you by enduring your onset: whatever strikes against that which is firm and unconquerable merely injures itself by its own violence. Wherefore, seek some soft and yielding object to pierce with your darts. But have you leisure to peer into other men’s evil deeds and to sit in judgment upon anybody? to ask how it is that this philosopher has so roomy a house, or that one so good a dinner? Do you look at other people’s pimples while yon yourselves are covered with countless ulcers? This is as though one who was eaten up by the mange were to point with scorn at the moles and warts on the bodies of the handsomest men. Reproach Plato with having sought for money, reproach Aristotle with having obtained it, Democritus with having disregarded it, Epicurus with having spent it: cast Phaedrus and Alcibiades in my own teeth, you who reach the height of enjoyment whenever you get an opportunity of imitating our vices! Why do you not rather cast your eyes around yourselves at the ills which tear you to pieces on every side, some attacking you from without, some burning in your own bosoms? However little you know your own place, mankind has not yet come to such a pass that you can have leisure to wag your tongues to the reproach of your betters.’”

          Can you find something similar from Paul, Erlend?

          • Erlend
            2013-03-21 04:37:33 UTC - 04:37 | Permalink

            Evan, if you did spend more than 20 seconds you will see that Seneca is not actually quoting Socrates. He is talking as if his life speaks against what is mentioned. Hence why he addresses Epicurus and Aristotle, both of whom were born after he died.

            • Evan
              2013-03-21 09:18:38 UTC - 09:18 | Permalink

              I never said Seneca was quoting Socrates. I think Seneca is clearly giving biographical details unique to Socrates. He was in prison. He was made fun of by Aristophanes, he was a philosopher, he knew Plato and Aristotle … etc. Where is the similar passage in Paul that gives specific and unique biographical details?

              • Erlend
                2013-03-21 10:06:42 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

                You mean the passages where he was said to be born of a woman, descended from David, a Jewish male, taught things, ate a meal, had disciples, was crucified…

              • Geoff
                2013-03-21 11:11:22 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

                Being “born of a woman” is a specific and unique description of a human being?

              • Evan
                2013-03-22 02:02:12 UTC - 02:02 | Permalink

                Erlend, I don’t believe Paul ever referred to Jesus as having disciples. I hope you are correct though, since it would certainly help your case. Please point me to that passage.

        • 2013-03-21 04:19:59 UTC - 04:19 | Permalink

          Point of order, Erlend.

          Steven’s comment was about the lack of Jesus’ sayings in Paul’s epistles. However, your response defended the lack of Jesus’ life story in the epistles. While it is true that Seneca’s and Epictetus’s writings “never give a plotted summary of his [Socrates'] life” they did, on the other hand, quote Socrates when it served their purpose.

          So it’s possible the reason you found the original comment “entirely vacuous” was that you misunderstood what he said. Would you care to take another crack at it?

  • 2013-03-20 09:24:14 UTC - 09:24 | Permalink

    I’m not sure how much it adds to the discussion at hand, but I have to wonder about the letters attributed to Paul that he did not write, especially the pastoral epistles. If they were indeed written by a later generation of Christians trying to “domesticate” Paul, then why do these forgers also not call upon the “rich oral tradition”?

    I’m thinking of 1 Timothy 4:1 –

    Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings (NET)

    The Spirit says?! Hadn’t they heard about the Synoptic Apocalypse?

    “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.” (Mark 13:6, NASB)

    Are we to infer that the invocation of a recent prophecy carries more weight than the oral tradition or a written gospel? More plainly, would a saying received in a trance trump the words of Jesus himself?

  • Anon
    2013-03-20 12:37:34 UTC - 12:37 | Permalink

    Note too: it’s not clear what “churches” meant for Paul and other early Christains. Congregations? Composed of who? Likely they were groups of usually hellenized Jews. Who had no defined beliefs regarding any “Jesus,” at all. This view accords with the nature of the churches and their variable beliefs, apparent in Paul’s letters.

  • 2013-03-21 04:28:35 UTC - 04:28 | Permalink

    Why did Paul have to write letters? How else would a Gentile in the 2nd century be able to subvert the synoptic Jesus and convince everyone to give up on morality and such and believe in predestination and “faith alone”?

  • M. Gould
    2013-03-21 07:17:01 UTC - 07:17 | Permalink

    Because Jesus did not leave instructions on how early Gentile followers of “The Way” should deal with problems they would encounter (Jesus was primarily concerned with Judaism prior to his crucifixion, if not afterwards). Paul founded communities and as he received messages from them about problems and questions arising, he wrote with his responses. This is an absurd article even by the standards of Jesus-Mythers.

    • 2013-03-21 07:59:52 UTC - 07:59 | Permalink

      SO why did Paul have to write letters, when oral communication was so wonderful that it could transmit stories about what Jesus had taught so perfectly, yet was wholly inadequate to pass on what Paul had taught?

      Why did oral tranmission stop whenever it dealt with Paul’s teachings, only to resume whenever it had to deal with Jesus’s teachings?

      • 2013-03-21 13:20:30 UTC - 13:20 | Permalink

        Strange that Paul has to repeat so many of his own teachings to his converts. I guess the oral thing worked only for the Jesus tradition, not the Paul tradition — i.e. the stuff that Paul taught in person while he was there for months at a time. It seems only second-hand material can be transmitted orally, if you want it to stick.

        Maybe he should have sent somebody else in his place.

    • John Bebbington
      2013-03-22 07:27:28 UTC - 07:27 | Permalink

      I understood that Paul was economical in the content of his correspondence because paper and ink were expensive. However, according to Mr Gould, it now seems that there was a very cheap body of messengers running around the countryside looking for Paul wherever he might be found on his wide-ranging travels to report on occasional doctrinal problems.

      The two sides of the equation don’t seem to balance.

      • M. Gould
        2013-03-23 03:14:30 UTC - 03:14 | Permalink

        “I understood that Paul was economical in the content of his correspondence because paper and ink were expensive”

        Is that intended as a serious comment? (It’s hard to tell with Mythicists). The next article on here might point out that he did not use email? Pretty suspicious eh?

        • Samphire
          2013-03-23 07:50:25 UTC - 07:50 | Permalink

          Yes – the first part was a serious comment. It is not my hypothesis but that of a fundamentalist who thought it explained why Paul had so little to say concerning a Jesus who lived at the same time and in the same area as himself but whose path Paul never managed to cross.

          Then, on the other hand, you imply that there were a bunch of messengers running round the countryside (at whose expense?) looking for Paul (who never mentioned them)to complain to him orally of doctrinal disputes in assemblies hundreds of miles away. Seems unlikely.

          By the way, any idea why your god couldn’t arrange matters so that Jesus and Paul (seemingly the only supposedly contemporaneous NT character capable of putting pen to paper) ever managed to bump into each other? How difficult would that have been?

          • 2013-03-25 09:25:41 UTC - 09:25 | Permalink

            “Hundreds of messengers”? Why “hundreds”? Besides, you do realize that in Paul’s day they didn’t have the U.S. postal service right? Do you think that Paul and his correspondents folded up little pieces of paper, put them in an envelope, licked it, and put an Elvis stamp on it? How do you think letters were delivered back then? Hint: by messengers sent by the guy sending the letter. Have you ever read Acts? How did the “Jerusalem Council” send out their letter to the Gentile churches? Did they “put it in the mail”? No. They send several individuals, Paul included, messengers, to deliver it. There was no postal service. Whether by oral or written communication, your “Hundreds of messengers” were still needed either way!

  • 2013-03-22 06:16:34 UTC - 06:16 | Permalink

    It could be that the letters of Paul are not even letters to individual churches but religious tracts intended to rebut some doctrines of the gospel story told by the opposition – who are clearly identified as Peter, James and John in Galatians. In other words, Paul is accusing the christian churches of being Judaized. But wait…isn’t that the same thing Marcion said in the 130′s AD? Oh, and coincidentally, it was Marcion who first introduced the world to the letters of Paul – just a coincidence, I suppose…

    • 2013-03-25 09:20:15 UTC - 09:20 | Permalink

      Gasp! You can’t be suggesting Marcion had a hand in forging the Pauline epistles, can you? Why, everyone knows, Marcion was a heretic while Paul was a perfectly inspired and inerrant writers whose contradictions are all perfectly self-harmonious.

  • 2013-03-23 09:32:05 UTC - 09:32 | Permalink

    Taking the title question out of its historical context, it strikes me that you could just have well asked “Why did L. Ron Hubbard have to write books?”

    Given the invention of literacy, why do some individuals exploit a tool such as writing to gain or maintain followers?

    There is a certain “magic” to words, and especially to writing.

    Note that the Jewish commandments had to be *written* down (on tablets, the claim goes).

    Note the emphasis in Protestantism on *scriptures* versus oral traditions.

    If we take as a summary that religion is indeed yet another human invention, in this case to help us deal with the pains of life and the certainty of death, then our Western religion in particular idolizes the invention of writing as the intermediary between some ultimate refuge (syn. of “sanctuary”) from life and the immediate pains found therein.

    This may all seem removed from the details of your original question, but I think we have to step back and ask if “Paul” really was all that different from people today. What if “Paul” really was like L. Ron Hubbard (or if that is too cynical for you, then how about Harold Camping as a better comparison?)

    Perhaps I am too far off the track from anything that could be useful as far as finding a “historical Jesus”. But if we are to question, for example, the provenance of any alleged letter from “Paul” we also have to ask that same question of “Paul” about his claims (as attributed to him).

  • 2013-03-23 10:51:15 UTC - 10:51 | Permalink

    Whether or not we accept that Paul was an historical epistolist in the conventional timeframe, whose letters have survived centuries of redaction substantially intact, it should be apparent that those letters deal with the refinement and elaboration of more-or-less abstract doctrinal issues of some early Christian (or Chrestic, or Nazoraean) sect(s), whose fundamental mythology would already have been established. It doesn’t need to be assumed that those fundaments were communicated (exclusively) orally, given the wealth of Nazoraean, Chrestic, and Christian literature we know didn’t survive subsequent Christian history. Such an assumption, I can only assume, could only stem from a simplistic, apologistic sense of “early Christian” history.

  • 2013-03-24 05:11:46 UTC - 05:11 | Permalink

    Of course, Paul had to write letters telling Christians to proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11)

    But why did Christians have to proclaim that Jesus was dead? Everybody knew that Jesus was dead. Why did Christians have to continually proclaim that Jesus was dead, if everybody already knew it?

    Why does Paul have to tell Christians that Jesus was dead, when we are continually told that he wouldn’t repeat something everybody already knew?

    (Unless the death of Jesus was not an historical fact, but a theological one. You only proclaim what you believe, not what you think is background knowledge.)

  • 2013-03-24 19:52:43 UTC - 19:52 | Permalink

    Why did Paul have to write to say that Jesus was born of a woman?

    Were there Christians saying that Jesus was like Melchizedek?

    Hebrews 7 ”Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.’

    The Son of God had no father or mother. Hebrews 7 says so…..

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

    Powered by sweet Captcha