My Response to PineCreek's Christian Challenge

December 9, 2017

Here's a Christian challenge by Douglas Letkeman, a Street Epistemologist. It involves 10 questions about Paul and his knowledge about Jesus. I will answer the 10 questions here, starting with a preface.

 

Preface

I believe that Paul already had an entire biography about Jesus written down. It was Luke's gospel, though it is possible that Luke may have further modified it for the sake of Theophilus, whom was Paul's lawyer during his trial in Rome. Whenever Paul wrote about "my gospel" (Romans 2:16, 16:25; 2 Timothy 2:8), it was the biography of Jesus penned by Luke for the sole purpose of Paul's mission to the gentiles.

 

The language and style of Luke fits very well with Paul's theological arguments in regards to the "secret" plan of God (1 Corinthians 2:7-8) in relation to the disinherited nations (thus Deuteronomy 32:7-9 as being reversed in Acts 2), specifically his mention of his mission to Spain in Romans 15:24-28. In fact, Paul quotes directly from Luke 10:7 toward Timothy: "For the Scripture says, 'A worker deserves his pay.'" (1 Timothy 5:18)

 

Eusebius (3rd century Bishop of Caesarea) clarifies:

 

"But Luke, who was of Antiochian parentage and a physician by profession, and who was especially intimate with Paul and well acquainted with the rest of the apostles, has left us, in two inspired books, proofs of that spiritual healing art which he learned from them. One of these books is the Gospel, which he testifies that he wrote as those who were from the beginning eye-witnesses and ministers of the word delivered unto him, all of whom, as he says, he followed accurately from the first. The other book is the Acts of the Apostles which he composed not from the accounts of others, but from what he had seen himself. And they say that Paul meant to refer to Luke's Gospel wherever, as if speaking of some gospel of his own, he used the words, 'according to my Gospel.'"

 

Luke is mentioned three times in Paul's epistles (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11), and we learn that he was a physician, was one of Paul's fellow-workers who was very close to him, and was with him during his last imprisonment. In fact, Luke was with Paul in Jerusalem at the time he was taken prisoner (Acts 21), where he met James, and possibly others of the Twelve. It is not at all improbable that in the course of his life he became acquainted with several of the apostles. Thus Paul reminds the Corinthian church of Luke, and the same gospel message he used via Luke's work:

 

With him we have sent the brother who is praised in all the churches for spreading the gospel. More than that, he has also been selected by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this work of kindness for the glory of the Lord and as evidence of our eagerness to help.

(2 Corinthians 8:18-19)

 

Why is all this important? If there are details about Jesus missing in Paul's letters, details that are minute in nature (so that Paul can focus on other more profound theological details in his letters about Church issues), they are to be found in Luke's biography of Jesus, because that's the intended dedication Luke had for his gospel, as he reminds Theophilus:

 

Since many people have attempted to write an orderly account of the events that have transpired among us, just as they were passed down to us by those who had been eyewitnesses and servants of the word from the beginning, I, too, have carefully investigated everything from the beginning and have decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

(Luke 1:1-4)

 

Specifically note the word "certainty" in the Greek. It's asphaleian (where we get our word "asphalt"). In Greek literature of the 1st century, it normally refers to something that is safe or secure, as it does in Acts 5:23. Its use in Luke with a verb of knowing points to a psychological goal. It refers to knowing the truth, but doing so securely.

 

Therefore my question to Douglas is this: could Paul have included all the details we read about in Luke's gospel, in his letters? I would argue no. It would be unnecessary and logistically impractical. But I will also argue that the questions you pose actually defends Paul's authentic perspective about Jesus. Nowhere does Paul disagree or contradict the gospel accounts, and vice versa. Thus, as Paul said:

 

So, whether it was I or the others, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

(1 Corinthians 15:11)

 

Let's start the Q&A.

 

Question 1: Does Paul mention Pilate, the Romans, or the Jews as the executioners of Jesus?

 

Yes. In fact, he mentions all three here:

 

My brothers, descendants of Abraham's family, and those among you who fear God, it is to us that the message of this salvation has been sent. For the people who live in Jerusalem and their leaders, not knowing who Jesus was, condemned him and so fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Although they found no reason to sentence him to death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had finished doing everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and placed him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who had come with him to Jerusalem from Galilee. These are now his witnesses to the people.

(Acts 13:26-31)

 

Paul presents a four-point Christian confession like that in 1 Corinthians 15. This is the essence of the kerygma, the early Christian preaching that Jesus was crucified, they "placed him in a tomb," but "God raised him from the dead," and "for many days he appeared to those who had come with him to Jerusalem from Galilee," who are "now his witnesses to the people."

 

And Pilate is mentioned again here:

 

Since you are in the presence of God, who gives life to everything, and in the presence of the Messiah Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, I solemnly charge you to keep these commands stainlessly and blamelessly until the appearance of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah.

(1 Timothy 6:13-14)

 

Question 2: Does Paul mention the word "disciples" or the idea of people following Jesus in the flesh?

 

Yes, specifically his highlight of the word "Twelve," a very important construct if Paul is drawing from actual events in Jesus's ministry (and not just that, but the "Twelve" had a specific theological basis derived from 2nd Temple Judaism):

 

and he was seen by Cephas, and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Next he was seen by James, then by all the apostles, and finally he was seen by me, as though I were born abnormally late.

(1 Corinthians 15:5-8)

 

So, where did this "Twelve" idea come from (that Paul repeats)? The Judaism during the 1st century (via eschatological musings) envisioned Jewish councils as comprised of "twelve members" in a court scene. You see this most prominently in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Qumran community. The Old Testament text used for this particular pesher exegesis is quite curious:

 

O afflicted one, passed back and forth, and not comforted, Look! I am about to set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. And I'll make your battlements of rubies, and your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones.

(Isaiah 54:11-12)

 

And the following is from the DSS 4Q164, where we see the use of Isaiah 54:11-12 as an eschatological interpretation about the rebuilding of the new Jerusalem (thus the "Twelve" in the NT is about the foundation of the Church as the New Jerusalem):

 

"And I will lay your foundations with sapphires [Isaiah 54:11]. Interpreted this concerns the Priests and the people who laid the foundations of the Council of the Community. The congregation of his elect shall sparkle like a sapphire among stones. And I will make all your pinnacles of agate [Isaiah 54:12]. Interpreted, this concerns the twelve chief Priests who shall enlighten by judgement of the Urim and Thumim."

 

The Urim and Thumim mentioned here is most important, because the practice of returning to the "Twelve" (remember, Judas committed suicide) is evident in Acts:

 

So they drew lots for them, and when the lot fell on Matthias, he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.

(Acts 1:26)

 

Question 3: Did Paul mention Nazareth, Galilee, or Bethlehem in relation to Jesus?

 

Yes. Nazareth is mentioned twice (Acts 22:8, 26:9) and Galilee once (Acts 13:31). What about Bethlehem? Not surprisingly, it's a thoroughly profound perspective for Paul, since he highlights a particular point about Jesus that is more important than just referring to the location. The context is that 1st century Jews like Josephus spoke about King David as being buried "in Jerusalem" (Antiquities 7.392), but Bethlehem was also called "the city of David" (Luke 2:4, 11), because it was the city of his youth. In addition, David is known in the OT as the "son of that Ephrathite man named Jesse from Bethlehem in Judah" (1 Samuel 17:12), and the “son of your servant Jesse of Bethlehem” (1 Samuel 17:58), thus a tradition traceable to Eusebius that locates David's tomb in Bethlehem.Therefore, Paul writes many times:

 

Then God removed Saul and made David their king, about whom he testified, 'I have found that David, the son of Jesse, is a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my wishes.' It was from this man's descendants that God, as he promised, brought to Israel a Savior, who is Jesus.

(Acts 13:22-23)

 

regarding his Son. He was a descendant of David with respect to his humanity

(Romans 1:3)

 

And again, Isaiah says, "There will be a Root from Jesse. He will rise up to rule the gentiles, and the gentiles will hope in him."

(Romans 15:12)

 

Meditate on Jesus, the Messiah, who was raised from the dead and is a descendant of David. This is the gospel I tell others.

(2 Timothy 2:8)

 

Paul most definitely has Bethlehem in mind, specifically of Ephrathah (Micah 5:2).

 

Question 4: Does Paul mention the ministry of Jesus?

 

Yes, to the Ephesian elders:

 

In every way I showed you that by working hard like this we should help the weak and remember the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'

(Acts 20:35)

 

And also to the Corinthians:

 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus, the Messiah. Although he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.

(2 Corinthians 8:9)

 

Question 5: Does Paul mention the virgin birth?

 

Yes, in three places:

 

regarding his Son. He was a descendant of David with respect to his humanity

(Romans 1:3)

 

But when the appropriate time had come, God sent his Son, born by a woman, born under the Law

(Galatians 4:4)

 

Instead, poured out in emptiness, a servant's form did he possess, a mortal man becoming. In human form he chose to be

(Philippians 2:7)

 

The Greek verb that translates to "descendant", "born", and "becoming" is gínomai. It's quite an unusual word to use if we were thinking of a normal birth (via the sexual union of a male and female). Thus the fact that Paul says that Jesus "became" a human by a woman is implying a virgin birth. Furthermore, to "become" a human shows that Paul is arguing for the incarnation where Jesus "becomes" human. As C. E. B. Cranfield wrote:

 

"It is possible that Paul’s use here and also in Gal 4:4 and Phil 2:7 of γίνεσθαι rather than γεννᾶσθαι (which he does sometimes use but never in connexion with the birth of Jesus) may reflect knowledge on his part of the tradition of Jesus’ birth without natural human fatherhood. A few minuscule MSS. do in fact have γεννωμένου here, and it has the support of syh: the equivalent ‘natus’ was a variant known to Augustine. The Vulgate has ‘qui factus est ei’ (there is no known Greek support for the ‘ei’)."

 

Tertullian (2nd century Carthaginian apologist) writes specifically on Galatians 4:4 and the virgin birth:

 

"Let us now see whether the apostle withal observes the norm of this name in accordance with Genesis, attributing it to the sex; calling the virgin Mary a woman, just as Genesis (does) Eve. For, writing to the Galatians, “God,” he says, “sent His own Son, made of a woman,” who, of course, is admitted to have been a virgin, albeit Hebion resist (that doctrine). I recognise, too, the angel Gabriel as having been sent to “a virgin.” But when he is blessing her, it is “among women,” not among virgins, that he ranks her: “Blessed (be) thou among women.” The angel withal knew that even a virgin is called a woman. But to these two (arguments), again, there is one who appears to himself to have made an ingenious answer; (to the effect that) inasmuch as Mary was “betrothed,” therefore it is that both by angel and apostle she is pronounced a woman; for a “betrothed” is in some sense a “bride.” Still, between “in some sense” and “truth” there is difference enough, at all events in the present place: for elsewhere, we grant, we must thus hold. Now, however, it is not as being already wedded that they have pronounced Mary a woman, but as being none the less a female even if she had not been espoused; as having been called by this (name) from the beginning: for that must necessarily have a prejudicating force from which the normal type has descended. Else, as far as relates to the present passage, if Mary is here put on a level with a “betrothed,” so that she is called a woman not on the ground of being a female, but on the ground of being assigned to a husband, it immediately follows that Christ was not born of a virgin, because (born) of one “betrothed,” who by this fact will have ceased to be a virgin. Whereas, if He was born of a virgin—albeit withal “betrothed,” yet intact—acknowledge that even a virgin, even an intact one, is called a woman. Here, at all events, there can be no semblance of speaking prophetically, as if the apostle should have named a future woman, that is, bride, in saying “made of a woman.” For he could not be naming a posterior woman, from whom Christ had not to be born—that is, one who had known a man; but she who was then present, who was a virgin, was withal called a woman in consequence of the propriety of this name,—vindicated, in accordance with the primordial norm, (as belonging) to a virgin, and thus to the universal class of women."

 

Question 6: Did Paul mention the miracles, healings, and exorcisms of Jesus?

 

Yes, but indirectly. Remember that Paul has his conversion experience in Acts 9. Following into Acts 10, we read Peter saying:

 

You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, he went around doing good and healing everyone who was oppressed by the devil. We are witnesses of everything Jesus did in the land of the Jews, including Jerusalem. They hung him on a tree and killed him, but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear—not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God to be witnesses and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.

(Acts 10:37-41)

 

Since Paul wrote Hebrews, we read in a very succinct theological manner the same observation that Peter made:

 

how will we escape if we neglect a salvation as great as this? It was first proclaimed by the Lord himself, and then it was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony through signs, wonders, various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

(Hebrews 2:3-4)

 

Therefore, since the children have flesh and blood, he himself also shared the same things, so that by his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death (that is, the devil) and might free those who were slaves all their lives because they were terrified by death.

(Hebrews 2:14-15)

 

Question 7: Did Paul mention the witnesses of the death and burial of Jesus?

 

Yes, this is already answered in Question 1 above.

 

Question 8: Did Paul mention who his sources were?

 

Yes, already answered in the preface above, along with most of the answers where Paul was acquainted with the Twelve. And here is Paul's defense:

 

For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a man, nor was I taught it, but it was revealed to me by Jesus the Messiah. For you have heard about my earlier life in Judaism—how I kept violently persecuting God's church and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries, because I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who set me apart before I was born and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me so that I might proclaim him among the gentiles, I did not confer with another human being at any time, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me. Instead, I went away to Arabia and then came back to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. But I did not see any other apostle except James, the Lord's brother. (Before God, what I'm writing to you is the truth.) Then I went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. But the churches of the Messiah that are in Judea did not yet know me personally. The only thing they kept hearing was this: "The man who used to persecute us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy!" So they kept glorifying God for what had happened to me.

(Galatians 1:11-24)

 

Question 9: Does Paul mention John the Baptist, Judas Iscariot, and Joseph of Arimathea?

 

Only John the Baptist (Acts 13:24-25, Acts 19:3-4). Judas is unnecessary, because look at my answer to Question 2 in regards to the "Twelve", and Joseph is alluded to in my answer to Question 1.

 

Question 10: Does Paul mention an empty tomb?

 

Yes, as answered in Question 1 including the fact that every occurrence of the word "resurrection" by Paul is speaking about Jesus rising from the grave (Romans 1:4, 4:24-25, 6:4-5, 9, 7:4, 8:11, 10:9, 14:9; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:4-57; 2 Corinthians 1:9, 4:14; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 1:19-20; Philippians 3:10-11; Colossians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 2:8).

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