Paul the Apostle-Scholars Answer Questions About Paul-Part 4

By: Staff Writer; ©2004
Dr. Craig Evans answers the following questions:Did Paul invent Christianity? How is Paul’s message related to the Gospels? How accurate is the New Testament in terms of history? What is “tradition” as used by Paul? What is so important about the creedal statements in Paul’s writings? What effect did the fact of the Crucifixion have on Paul? What changed Paul from a skeptic to a believer?

Dr. Craig Evans

[Dr. Craig Evans: Ph.D. in New Testament from Claremont Graduate School and is the Director of the Graduate Program in Biblical Studies at Trinity Western University, where he has taught since 1981. He has lectured at Cambridge, Durham, and Oxford. Co­editor of Dictionary of New Testament Backgrounds, Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research and Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Author of Jesus and His Contemporaries.]

Did Paul invent Christianity?

Ankerberg: The information in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us something about how to answer the question, “Did Paul invent Christianity?”
Dr. Craig Evans: Yeah. That has been around for a long time: Who is the Founder of Chris­tianity anyway? Is it Jesus or is it Paul? And the question is actually a good one to ask because it forces us to recognize the contribution that Paul made. It forces us to stop, rethink, “Well, what contribution did Jesus make anyway?” But at the end of the day, if it’s carefully thought through, we still come back to, “No. Jesus is the Founder of Christianity.” What Paul does is, Paul takes it to the next step. It’s implicit in Jesus’ ministry–the Gospel, the Good News, goes first to the Jewish people; and then it goes to the Gentiles. That’s in Jesus’ ministry. It’s hinted at in a few places. It’s significantly hinted at in His temple demonstration when He appeals to Isaiah 56: It’s supposed to be a house of prayer for all the peoples. If He has that whole oracle in mind, and I think He does, then He envisions Israel renewed, restored, which then becomes like a light­house for the entire world. Well, that’s what Paul is doing—the light for the world—again, an­other Isaiah phrase, Isaiah 49:6. That’s what he’s doing. So he’s acting on Jesus’ mission. He’s taking it that next logical step and I don’t think this is an innovation on Paul’s part. He’s done this in cooperation and collaboration with the Jerusalem Church with its blessing. He takes the Gospel in His own special way to the Gentile world. So Paul is not the founder of Christianity but obviously he is a major contributor to what Christianity becomes, the expression it takes, and of course he is the major theologian for Gentile Christianity in that sense.

How is Paul’s message related to the Gospels?

Ankerberg: Pull Paul in here in terms of showing that we have information that we could trust in the Synoptics and John via Paul because the Gospels may be “out” for some of the scholars, but Paul is “in.” Well, if Paul is “in,” what does that tell you about the Synoptics?
Evans: When some of the scholars say that Paul doesn’t really know the Gospel tradition or doesn’t relate to it, they’re wrong because you have the tradition of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in Paul in various places–like the words of institution: the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11; or the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15. There is important Matthew, Mark, Luke tradition right there in Paul years before Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written.

How accurate is the New Testament in terms of history?

Ankerberg: Are the words accurate words as far as the scholars are concerned? Did Jesus actually say those statements? And, secondly, if He did say those statements, what’s the mean­ing of those statements?
Evans: First of all, it’s very probable that He did say those words. You have multiple attesta­tion. You have it in Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, so you have a very early source. When Paul writes this down, not even twenty years have elapsed. And he cites this as received tradition. People already knew about that. So Paul, even if he’s the first to write about it, he’s not the first to know about it. It’s already an old tradition—the gospels are written later.
Ankerberg: What was the message that was proclaimed after Jesus died but before the Gospels and the New Testament were written. How do you even know anything about what was preached immediately after?
Evans: Well, we assume that the Gospel was proclaimed by word of mouth, and so what we hope is that something is written down before the living eyewitnesses pass away. And that’s what happens. Paul is talking about it, and the way Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians, it’s “old hat;” they’ve known about it for years, what Paul is writing, 20 years, maybe 17, 18 years after the event. And so that, from a historian’s point of view, that’s pretty good because remember what historians of antiquity have to deal with. Sometimes we have one source written down two or three hundreds years after the event took occurred and the oldest copy of that source we have is five or six hundred years after the original was written. And you say, “Well, that’s pretty good. We’ve got some good solid information here to work with.” And so we go to the scene where it all happened and we find a few stones that match the source and we say, “Hey! It’s confirmed.”
Well, the Gospels give us a ton of stuff in comparison to that. We actually have Paul talking about critical events, like the words of institution, eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, writing that within 20 years, writing within the lifetime of the people who were the witnesses themselves, and then the Gospel is written 10, 20, 30 years after that–and several of them, drawing upon at least two, probably three, maybe four distinct sources. That’s pretty good attestation compared to what historians of antiquity normally have to work with. There are lots of historians of antiquity that would rejoice if we had sources that reached back to Paracletus, within 20 years of his life, sources that reach back to living eyewitnesses; and then had hundreds of manuscripts and copies of these sources dating within a century or so. They would be ecstatic! Well, that’s what we have in New Testament research and yet some of the scholars are hyper-critical, hyper-skeptical. I just don’t understand.

What is “tradition” as used by Paul?

Ankerberg: Talk about 1 Corinthians 15. Get “tradition” on the table for our American people to realize that’s important, almost technical data that Paul is giving that the community ac­cepted. In other words, our people don’t seem to understand the import of what Paul is doing in 1 Corinthians 15 and why that’s so important in verifying that Jesus was a historical person, that the Resurrection took place–you’ve got the empty tomb; you’ve got the eyewitnesses all labeled there. But it’s packaged in a special way that you scholars sit up and notice. Even the Jewish scholars like Pinchas Lapide and Flusser and so on, all say, “This is authentic stuff.” Okay, our guys don’t seem to get that. Why is it authentic stuff? Why is that portion important and what’s the information that’s being given there?
Evans: Well, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul passes on as tradition what he has received, what they have received, he wants to pass on to them, and underscore it. And he does so for a reason because there are some heretical views regarding Resurrection that are beginning to float around in the Corinthian church and Paul wants to stamp it out. And so he appeals to old tradi­tion. Well, it’s funny–“old” tradition? The tradition isn’t even 20 years old yet and it’s old tradition. And so it’s tradition that is circulating with the eyewitnesses still living. And so this is why many scholars, in fact, do take it very seriously. Some may not, but most do. They take it very seriously.
Ankerberg: Define tradition first then.
Evans: Well, Paul defines it and so “Jesus died, and He was buried, and He was raised up.” We get these key verbs that summarize a lot of things. And “was buried,” by the way–that’s something that I think Dom [John Dominic] Crossan has to look at again and take more seri­ously. It’s not Jesus died and was shamefully left…I mean, why not incorporate that in the Chris­tian story if Jesus wasn’t buried: “Jesus died and was dishonored with no burial and then He was resurrected”? But, no, He died, He was buried, and this summarizes old stuff and it’s stuff that’s so old it has already developed into a shorthand. It has been around. You know the whole story so well, you just need three verbs and you can summarize the whole thing. “Hey, I know what you mean.” And that’s what it has become: a theological and historical shorthand summarizing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And it’s considered “tradition”—already “old stuff”—20 years later? That’s amazing! You know, it really is something. It reaches back to the time of Jesus. It reaches right back into the lifetime of eyewitnesses, many of whom were still living; and Paul says so: “He has appeared to over five hundred…” after cataloging everybody, “most of whom are still living.” That’s pretty solid stuff. And if Paul were making it up, I mean, he would have been compromised; he would have been found out so easily and discredited. But he’s not making it up. In fact, that isn’t even the point of the argument. He just reminds them of this and then goes on and makes his argument having to do with the importance of the Resur­rection for the believer.

What is so important about the creedal statements in Paul’s writings?

Ankerberg: There’s other creedal statements. People don’t understand what the word “creedal” means; they don’t understand what the word “tradition” means in conveying technical information that the community accepts. This is the authoritative scoop, okay? How do you scholars know when you have a creedal statement, i.e., in Acts, and what do those creedal statements signify?
Evans: Well, creedal statements comes from the Latin word credo which means, “I believe.” And so these are confessional statements; these are summarizing statements that say this is the important stuff. Other stuff is negotiable. Other stuff is, you know, it’s okay, it’s useful, but you don’t have to have it. But this is the non-negotiable. This is the stuff that we must believe. That’s what Creed is. And “Tradition” is that plus other things that’s passed on–it’s handed on from person to person, generation to generation. And I know that for some Protestants the idea of “Tradition” is somehow bad: “We’re not into traditions.” Oh, yes, you are. And the New Testa­ment, of course, is our single-most important piece of Tradition that has been handed on, and written down, and handed on generation by generation.
Ankerberg: When Peter says, “They killed Him” or “You killed Him, God raised Him,” they say that’s a creedal statement. And in just a short, succinct little package there you have a whole lot going on.
Evans: Yeah, just like 1 Corinthians 15. They’ve got those three verbs and that’s a creedal statement and creeds, that’s what they do. They summarize the essence. It’s a shorthand. They summarize a larger paradigm, a larger constellation of ideas. That’s what a creed does.

What effect did the fact of the Crucifixion have on Paul?

Ankerberg: This very fact blew Paul away, too, that Jesus was willing to go to the extent of being a Servant even to the death on the cross, so Philippians 2 comes about. But this had to blow Paul’s mind. Tell why this whole thing that Jesus did impressed His followers later on, people that were Pharisees like Paul.
Evans: If Jesus had not been resurrected, I don’t think they’d have been very much im­pressed. They’d have said, “Well, you’ve got to give Him high marks for devotion to His vision and willingness to die for it.” They might have said that. But when He was resurrected, they realized, “You know, He was right in what He was saying. He really was God’s Son. He really was acting according to God’s will. God did raise Him up.” And for Paul, Paul’s testimony would be very similar because Paul would assume that when the Messiah came, the only people that are going to do any suffering are the bad guys. The only people who are going to be doing any suffering are the Romans. That’s the way it’s supposed to be when the Messiah shows up. “So Jesus obviously can’t be the Messiah. He’s dead.” But now you’ve got this heresy, and people are running around saying, “Hey, aspects of the law of Moses really don’t have to be followed. I mean, in the name of Jesus you don’t have to do this and that and the other thing,” and he says, “Oh, obviously Jesus is a heretic. Jesus must have left behind a legacy of false teaching.” So Paul, the purist and the Pharisee, is going to stamp it out–until he encounters the risen Jesus. And now he has a whole new insight as to what the Messiah means, a whole new personal insight as to what his own righteousness means and what the Law means. And so you have Paul turned inside out because of his encounter with the risen Christ.

What changed Paul from a skeptic to a believer?

Ankerberg: Many scholars want to deny an actual physical resurrection of Jesus. But could anything other than resurrection account for the change in Paul and other skeptics?
Evans: There have been all sorts of alternative theories that have been proposed. The New Testament, without any variation, unanimously affirms that Jesus was raised from the dead. Resurrection we’re talking about, not ghost appearances and things like that, or wishful thinking, or memories and dreams, nor anything like that. Jesus was resurrected. And that was contrary to expectation. The disciples had run away. Why in the world would they think Jesus was going to be resurrected. They didn’t want to hang around for His execution. They took off. So the disciples were all drawn back. Jesus’ own family members were somewhat resistant to His ministry. You see that clearly in Mark 3. And yet His brother James becomes the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. Mary, who, you know, comes on board. So what has changed the minds of these cowardly disciples who had run away? What’s changed the minds of some of His own family members? What has changed the minds of some of the Pharisees—two, by the way, who, according to Luke, become converts early on? And it’s because of the Resurrection–and that was contrary to expectation. They believed in the Resurrection probably the way a lot of Christians today do. It’s kind of pie in the sky eventually, somewhere down the road. I think they would have believed that. But Jesus was talking about being resurrected in three days. And you don’t have to press that and say that means literally 72 hours or something like that. It’s based again–it’s typical of Jesus–it’s based on a loose paraphrase, Aramaic in this case, of Hosea 6:2: “On the second day He will revive us; after three days He will raise us up.” And in the Aramaic paraphrase, which was developing in the synagogue of Jesus’ day and beyond, it’s understood to be, “He’ll raise us up in the day of resurrection.” And that’s probably where Jesus’ language comes from. So He’s trying to assure His disciples, “On the third day I will be raised up.” And He’s alluding to Hosea 6:2. Well, that sounds nice in theory but, you know, would you like to put it to the test? No. Most people wouldn’t. “I’ll pass on that.” And but Jesus had faith that God would raise Him up and the disciples were, I think, thunderstruck when they realized after three days He was raised up. And Jesus’ hope and His faith in His Heavenly Father were vindicated and then He appears to them. And of course, they are just overwhelmed. Here is their Master. He stands before them bearing the marks of crucifixion still within His body. They are astounded by that and utterly transformed. No more cowardice; no more doubting; no more fickleness and fecklessness–the way it had been. No. They become His witnesses throughout their lives right to their own deaths and for most of them, it was martyrdom.

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