Not long ago I skimmed through an online discussion over whether or not Paul learned about the gospel of Jesus from other apostles like Peter and James, or whether he relied entirely on direct revelation from the spiritual Lord.
One side pointed to the letter to the Galatians where Paul said that he was not impressed with the status of “pillars” in the Jerusalem church like Peter, James and John, and insisted that all he knew about the gospel he knew because he was taught it by (the heavenly) Jesus Christ himself. So Galatians 1:11-12, 15-17
11 And I make known to you, brethren, the good news that were proclaimed by me, that it is not according to man,
12 for neither did I from man receive it, nor was I taught [it], but through a revelation of Jesus Christ, . . .
15 and when God was well pleased — having separated me from the womb of my mother, and having called [me] through His grace —
16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might proclaim him good news among the nations, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood,
17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem unto those who were apostles before me, but I went away to Arabia
They also pointed to 1 Corinthians 11:23ff where Paul said that he learned about the Last Supper ritual from Jesus himself:
23 For I — I received from the Lord that which also I did deliver to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which he was delivered up, took bread,
24 and having given thanks, he brake, and said, `Take ye, eat ye, this is my body, that for you is being broken; this do ye — to the remembrance of me.’
But then the other side of the discussion responded by saying that by pointing to those scriptures to decide the point people were being a bit naughty by only selecting verses that supported their view and were overlooking others that would place these verses in a different context and change the whole direction of the debate.
The passage this side pointed to in order to demonstrate that Paul really did indeed hear the message of Jesus from other apostles like Peter was this in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4
1 And I make known to you, brethren, the good news that I proclaimed to you, which also ye did receive, in which also ye have stood,
2 through which also ye are being saved, in what words I proclaimed good news to you, if ye hold fast, except ye did believe in vain,
3 for I delivered to you first, what also I did receive, that Christ died for our sins, according to the Writings,
4 and that he was buried, and that he hath risen on the third day, according to the Writings,
And then follows the list of eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ:
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve,
6 afterwards he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain till now, and certain also did fall asleep;
7 afterwards he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8 And last of all — as to the untimely birth — he appeared also to me,
9 for I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I did persecute the assembly of God, . . .
It is plain that the list of eyewitnesses was not part of what was delivered to Paul by Peter or others since the list includes his own name. The good news that he received and preached was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. More specifically, Paul says that the good news was the event of Christ’s death and resurrection “according to the Scriptures/Writings”.
The argument was that it was clear that Paul here is indicating that he received the good news by oral tradition via other human messengers. Therefore, the other passages where Paul said he received the message from Jesus should be interpreted as meaning that he received it from Jesus through these humanoid persons.
I had to leave the debate behind at that point, but looking back I wonder how it continued.
I would presume that those who introduced the green scriptures above pointed out that the red scriptures did not anywhere indicate from whom Paul received the message. (To call it a “tradition” is really a bit mischievous. “Tradition” implies it comes by a human chain in the first place so pre-judges the outcome of the debate.)
So if we have passages where Paul says that what he received about Jesus he received from Jesus himself, and one passage that says he received something about Jesus without explicitly saying from whom he received the message, what are we to conclude? Should we assume from the silence of the third instance that he meant something quite different from what he had explicitly stated in the other two instances?
Interestingly, if we move away from Paul altogether on this point, and have a look at who else received this same message and how they received it, we encounter, I think, a clarification.
Paul was not the only one to “receive” this message about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Note in particular that the message consists of three facets:
- and according to the Scriptures.
twelve eleven disciples and two others also “received” this same three-fold message. And note from whom they received it.
The Gospel of Luke describes Jesus himself delivering the same gospel to the two travellers on the road to Emmaus and to his disciples after his resurrection: Luke 24
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. . . .
44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
So Paul says he received the gospel and other related information from the resurrected Jesus himself.
He also says he received the specific gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus according to the scriptures. It was something he received, but he does not specify from whom he received it. Do we assume that he received this from any source other than the one he specifies elsewhere as his source?
Interestingly, we find the same three-faceted message in Luke’s gospel being received by the disciples. And they themselves are receiving it from the resurrected Jesus.
Paul includes himself among the eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. As an eyewitness he is not one whit behind any of the other apostles who saw the resurrected Jesus, he says in the blue scriptures above. (Except that he was a bad sinner and the least worthy, thus exalting himself through the last shall be first principle, etc.)
And if his experience as an eyewitness of the resurrection was all one and the same with the experiences of the others, then why should we think that when he says he received the gospel message of “the death and resurrection of Christ according to the Scriptures” that he received this any differently from the way the others had also presumably received it?
(Of course, in this post I am making many assumptions that do conflict with other suggestions I have proposed about gospel provenance etc, but allow me some slack. One has to step inside the framework of those with whom one is debating to establish communication in the first place.)
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