Beyond Tradition

"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men." Colossians 2:8

Gospel Date: The Christology of Paul

Part IV of VI (click here for Part I):


The argument of advanced or progressive Christology is often used in support of a late date for the gospel works. Form and redaction criticism assumes that the theology in the gospels is much too advanced to have been influenced by Aramaic speaking Jews from Galilee, thus must have been shaped into the movement later on as the theology about Jesus evolved and developed within a pagan environment. Of course, right off the bat, the circular reasoning here becomes all too obvious. Since it's impossible to believe these things about Jesus were true from a naturalistic sense, they must have been fabricated; and since they were fabricated, they had to have evolved and developed over time because this is generally how myths and legends form; and since they evolved over time, the myths and legends probably didn't solely come from Jews; thus they had to have evolved over time because the stories are not true and this is how myths and legends naturally progress and form...

From history to legend to a God is usually the natural evolutionary order of a historical figure, because the natural course obviously doesn't start as myth and evolve backwards into an authentic person of history. In other words, we know that Alexander the Great existed as a historical person who evolved into somewhat of a legendary hero that could do some amazing feats and even had supernatural origins, but this certainly didn't happen in reverse. The myth didn't morph into a historical man. We know that Augustus Caesar existed as a historical person, who was even proclaimed the son of god, but he certainly did not exist as a myth prior.

The problem is that these comparisons are in no way reflective of Judeo-Christianity. To make an accurate comparison with someone like Augustus to Jesus of Nazareth would be to imagine that instead of worshiping the Greco-Roman Pantheon, Augustus' adherents altered their religion and instead worshiped Augustus and made him the center of their theology. Another difference is that Augustus was a great political hero with great exploits against his enemies, whereas Jesus was crucified, something Jews were not expecting of the Messiah, hence his hero status in this culture would have been nullified by degradation and humiliation.

Even in ancient pagan culture this was unparalleled, much less in Judaic culture (discussed in detail here: The Jesus-myth Myth, A Judaic myth?). First century Jewish icons recorded to have done some unusual feats, such as the miracle workers Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa not only were never deified, made saviors, or had theological creeds built around them, but the only written sources we have of them exist in the Talmud many generations later. Jesus' first century miracle rival, Apollonius of Tyana, also doesn't compare. Not only is it a glaring fact that Apollonius was a pagan figure told exclusively by pagans, the only sources we have that illustrate anything about him date to the early third century and are scant at best in comparison to the sources we have of Christ. Moreover, even this character never had a religious theology built around him. Whatever way is used to explain the formation of Christianity, the beliefs that developed about Jesus had never happened before with any other historical figure, especially a Jewish one. Jesus and the Judeo-Christian movement was one of a kind.

The Christian apologist claims the fact that this radical theology amassed so rapidly and unparalleled with Jesus compared to any other historical figure is evidence that something miraculous occurred with this figure that jolted his adherents into these unusual beliefs and viewpoints in spite of themselves, their contrary religious and cultural beliefs and in spite of the contrary historical trends we find in the ancient world. However, this is obviously not a viable explanation from a secular point of view, which is why the Jesus-myth theory was the essential rallying cry for many skeptics up to the early 20th century, including some of the die-hard skeptics desperately clinging onto it today. It's a whole lot easier to start him off as a mythological and theological God-man who never existed going out the gate; and if true, Jesus is in good company with the many fictitious divine characters and demigods that existed in the pantheon of pagan religions.

Of course, this is also problematic because none of the gods of the pantheon were ever re-written into contemporary history the way Jesus was written into first century contemporary Judea. Nonetheless, though the Jesus-myth argument obviously saves a whole lot of time and trouble, since the Jesus-myth theory comes with a whole slew of problems of its own (discussed here: The Jesus-myth Myth), nor is it holding much weight these days among any credible scholars up-to-date with the current data and is thus rightly a fringe belief,[1] the only secular resolution to this is the progressive evolution theory, or that the historical Jesus of Nazareth started out as just a simple revered Jewish teacher and gradually evolved into a supernatural and theological religious icon later on. This is argued by clinging very closely to the post-70 gospel date view, pushing the gospels and the written Jesus-traditions as far away from the actual man himself to give the evolution-from-historical-man-to-theological-deity time to make this supposed progression as historically plausible as possible. This is also another reason why the canon gospels as second, even third century works became an essential argument for this until the scholarly data simply made it impossible to maintain a date later than 70-100 CE (discussed here: The Genesis, Gospel date consensus). Can you see where the post-70 date could actually be argued as an essential fundamental dogma in and of itself?

With this new evolution or progressive theory in mind, anything in the gospels that even remotely transcends natural history (divine events, miracles, the resurrection and ascension, or even Jesus' divine claims about himself), situations and discourses that represent Christian eschatology (the Apocalypse, Jesus' Second Coming, the Resurrection of the Dead, the Final Judgment) and soteriology (Christ's salvation) can be viewed as advanced stages of Christian doctrine that evolved at a much later time when history turned into outrageous legend, when Jewish influences and eyewitnesses to the original Judeo-Christian movement began to fade from the scene and perhaps when pagan ideas and influences had a chance to formulate, evolve, or perhaps infiltrate, overlapping natural Judean history and tradition. In other words, the Jesus-myth theory -- or Jesus never existed outside of myth theory -- has been replaced with a "evolution-from-historical-man-to-theological-God" theory, and since there needs enough time for this to be viewed as a plausible progression in a Jewish culture and environment, the late date argument for the gospels is critical here.

To simplify this, they argue that the traditions of Jesus began as just oral stories and rumors about a revered Jewish teacher, which over time progressed into structured legend and theological doctrine, much that is reflected in the written texts (the gospels) which came much later in time. Hence, you can see where the post-70 CE date here for the gospels is critical to support this premise because it gives it an open window of time of, at the very least, 30 years or more. Since most Markan priority proponents tout Mark as a short and straight forward work (or what they imply as less "embellished" than the other four), the Markan priority theory is also an essential component to this premise. It presumes an evolutionary process of development -- from primitive (rumors, stories, etc.) to advance (full-on legends/written texts). They suppose that oral tradition came first, followed by the written gospel works. Moreover, the order of the gospels themselves from Mark-Matthew-Luke-John (John argued as the most embellished of the stories) also followed a nice neat consecutive evolutionary path from simple to complex, each author layering in their own inventions, legend and theology along the way as time went on and as these ideas progressed and developed, which would make sense since legends typically become more extraordinary as they evolve through passing time.

However, not only does this argument stand on the single hope that this particular gospel order is correct (that the gospel of Mark was actually written first, which is a presupposition based on consensus view and in fact debatable), but there are quite a few other problematic issues it presents. First of all, from other articles, I established that all four gospels for the most part are saturated with tradition that are formulated from a Jewish point of view, formed within a Jewish template, not a pagan one. All four gospels contain pro-Judaic elements (i.e. pro Mosaic law, anti-Gentile sentiment, pro-Israel sentiment, pro-Jewish temple, etc.), along with Jewish themes and perspectives throughout the narratives (discussed here: The Jesus-myth Myth, A Judaic myth? and here: Gospel Date: Jewish Messiah in a pagan world). In addition to this, there is an Aramaic substratum that is embedded in all four gospels that further intimately attach the traditions within the gospels to a solid Jewish foundation, or at least Jewish sources that underlie the traditions (discussed here: The Q Conundrum, Problem #3). From these Jewish elements that are interwoven into the gospels, we can conclude that at least a good portion of the Jesus-traditions started in a pre-70 Jewish climate. This corroborates much more with a view that either the gospels were written by the earlier Christian Jews (hence the gospels date much earlier than is believed), or that the traditions did not evolve as radically as is supposed but stayed relatively intact as they were orally passed down from the early Christian Jews (as per what the writer of Luke declares -- Luke 1:1-2).

Secondly, when one examines this "evolved legend/theology" concept within the gospels closely, the evolution doesn't progress quite as smoothly as some would have us believe. In order to make it seem like the gospels show a progressive evolution in legend and theology from one gospel story to the other, isolated accounts in the gospels are selectively picked to make it appear like they show a successive progression. For example, oftentimes individual accounts are picked out during the resurrection to show this progression. Proponents of this theory show that Mark has no physical appearance of Jesus' post-resurrection (presupposing that Mark came first in this order), and then show where the physical appearances evolved from each gospel to the other, until we reach the gospel of John where the resurrection appearances become more intimate, such as Thomas actually examining and touching the wounds in Jesus to confirm that his resurrection appearance was physical. In other words, the gospels appear to show a gradual progression of legend and theological detail of not just the resurrection event (which is just mentioned in Mark but not actually illustrated) but the actual resurrected body of Jesus (which is described much more imaginatively in John). However, such an argument is only successful when looked by isolating these accounts, yet when comparing the overall accounts in the gospels, there are actually more supernatural and theological elements in Mark and Matthew -- presumably the earlier works, than in John -- presumably the later work, such as:

 

  • There is no virgin birth in John.
  • There is no Satanic Temptation in John.
  • There are no divine voices bellowing from heaven declaring Jesus is the "begotten son" in John.
  • There is no casting out demons in John.
  • There is no walking on the water or calming the storm in John.
  • There is no Mount of Transfiguration in John.
  • There is no ascension in John.

 

Moreover, there are just three what we might call distinct supernatural events in John, and they are:

 

  1. Turning water into wine.
  2. Healing the blind man.
  3. Jesus raising Lazarus.

 

However, there are other healings of blindness and raising the dead miracles performed by Jesus in the other gospels that are not mentioned in John, thus #2 and #3 are not unique miracles, just detailed. Turning water into wine is indeed totally unique, but considering this is one miracle against the slew of other miracles I just pointed out that are not present in John's gospel is not at all indicative of an any sort of progressive or evolving theology.

Moreover, Jesus' crucifixion in the gospel of Mark and Matthew (the supposed earlier works) contains more supernatural and theological and miraculous spectacle than Luke and John (the supposed later works). In fact, the theology and supernatural content during the crucifixion (i.e. eclipse of the sun, earthquakes, renting of the Temple veil, mass resurrections of the dead, Jesus crying out to God, the centurion's declaration of Jesus as "Son of God," etc.) is totally absent in John, hence John's crucifixion account is actually a regression of theology and spectacle comparable to the other three. Moreover, the theology in John found primarily in Jesus' theological dialogue that is the breadth of John's gospel, yet absent in the other three, also reflects much of Paul’s theology about Christ, whose works supposedly date years if not decades before John's gospel (which I'll discuss more in a bit).

It becomes more than apparent that the theory of progressive or evolving theology and legend can only be supported by selectively choosing unique miracles in the gospels that are absent in the others and then supposing this is an indication of a progression between the gospels. As we can see, the theory falls flat in face of the overall evidence to the contrary; the gospel of John is clearly not a progressive doctrinal or theological work, just a unique work.

Paul and the synoptics

Another issue with the doctrinal evolution theory is that the Christian movement in the very beginning was not based on a set of brand new teachings or principles like that of Islam or even Judaism, and then evolved into a sophisticated theology later on, but was instead based on theology and worship of this historical Galilean Jew from the very beginning of the movement; a man who was always at the center of the movement as Messiah and Lord from every early tradition known, his deification and salvation through his blood and death, and the proclaimed resurrection that justified this position. The issue with Paul's letters, indisputably predating 70 CE, which span from about 40-60's CE (anywhere from 8 to 13 letters, depending upon the degree of critical views about the authenticity of these letters), is another thorn against the evolution/progression theory. The problem with Paul's letters is not only that his teachings are rich with this deep Christology, but that he never uses anything outside the scope of this doctrine (he rarely quotes any type of teachings or principles Jesus the founder laid down prior).

Paul's letters also remain static and consistent from letter to letter in an approximate span of two decades, showing no signs of evolving theological viewpoints or changing doctrine. Though he does address contentions of formality -- circumcision, adhering or not adhering to certain rituals of Mosaic law, church functions and conduct -- he does not address any issues or contentions specifically about Christology (Jesus' divine nature or status as Son of God), contentions we would expect if such theology had been evolving and developing during this period. Paul's letters are in fact consistently just as theologically profound, if not more so, as the gospels, including John. For example, some have actually argued that the word "church" (ekklesia in the Greek, meaning "an assembly" or "council") was an advanced term that formed in this church evolution, insinuating that Matthew was a late work, since he used "church" in a universal sense when the Christian movement began to recognize the movement as a universal authoritative whole (example: Matthew 16:18). However, the term was used by Paul quite frequently both in a specific sense and a clear universal sense (see 1 Corinthians 10:32, 11:22, 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 3:21, 5:32; Philippians 3:6; Colossians 1:24).

The idea of a God-man is also displayed in Paul's exhaustive yet subtle distinctions throughout his teachings, contrasting between Jesus the historical man and Jesus the theological God-man. In Paul's letters, Jesus was born "of a descendant of David according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3); who was also the seed (Greek word sperma -- literally "offspring") of Abraham (Galatians 3:16); was born of a woman and under the law (Galatians 4:4); was the brother of James who was Paul's contemporary that he knew in person (Galatians 1:19); had lived in poverty (2 Corinthians 8:9); was killed by his own countrymen (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15); was publicly crucified before witnesses (Romans 3:25; Galatians 3:1); and was buried after his death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This is in contrast or addition to Paul's Jesus being both God made or sent "in the flesh" (Romans 1:3, 8:3-4; Philippians 2:5-11); who was the "Lord of Glory (1 Corinthians 2:8); who represented the second Adam specifically "from heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:47-48) and made as "a quickening Spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45). Paul also acknowledged a distinction between one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ as his Son, and identified Christ as God's Son a total of seventeen times in his letters, by whom "all things were made" (1 Corinthians 8:6). Paul and the gospels frequently use the term "Holy Spirit," yet Paul uniquely used "the Spirit of God" interchangeably with the "Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9; Galatians 4:6), suggesting the two were one and the same. These conflicting views have caused pains for most secular scholars who have unsuccessfully attempted to put Paul into a convenient compartmentalized box as either a type of "proto-Gnosticist" (a belief in a spiritual Christ with no materialistic form) or Adoptionist (merely a created mortal man, appointed as Son of God subsequent to either his birth or resurrection), with this conflicting theology to contend with that abruptly contradicts both categories.

These notable expressions, words, phrases, ideas expressed by Paul that seem far more advanced than the three synoptics gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) strongly suggest that Paul was building post-theological ideas on top of the historical man, whom he recognized as his contemporary, or what had been familiar traditions already reflected in the gospels, such as the crucifixion and the resurrection. This theology the Paul was layering onto the tradition would have confused his audience had they not been familiar with the foundational traditions inherent within the gospels. Even if the gospels succeeded Paul much later, Paul's theology works like a theological extension to a traditional foundation of the gospels that already existed when Paul wrote his letters. To assume these traditions were not around in at least an oral form is not necessary because it leaves an inexplicable foundational void with Paul's teachings unaccounted for. In other words, we know Paul worshiped a natural man, or man "in the flesh," who he believed was his contemporary, yet if Paul was not building his theology off the same man in the flesh tradition reflected in the gospels, what man in the flesh tradition he was using for this theology and what his audience understood is inexplicable?

Paul's firm belief that Jesus is not only the expected Jewish Davidic Messiah born within David's lineage (Romans 1:3), but an actual deity, arguably in a sense equal with Yahweh, is somewhat hard for some scholars to swallow. Indeed, it is an issue that has been grappled with for literally centuries, something we certainly aren't surprised by in light of the fact that not only are Paul's writings indisputably very early in the stages of Judeo-Christianity, but in light of the fact of Paul's Jewish upbringing and history: Raised in a Pharisaical family (Acts 23:6) and a member of the Pharisaical second Temple circle, a sect that was fastened to a rigid monotheism (Acts 22:3, 26:4-5);[3] was educated by Gamaliel (Acts 22:3);[4] considered himself a "Hebrew of Hebrews" (Philippians 3:5) -- meaning he was a Jew who was just as devout and blood legit as they come; and was a former radical fundamentalist to Judaism (Galatians 1:13-14). One could strongly argue that Paul's seemingly conflicting portrayals of Jesus as both man and God, his distinction with God the Father, as well as his belief in the Holy Spirit are the first primitive expressions of Trinitarianism,[5] thought to be an ultra advanced Christian development, showing subtle signs in the gospel of John and a distinct formula in Matthew (28:19), yet would arguably not become an official Christ doctrine until many centuries later.

The term "Christ Jesus" or "the Christ" was thought of as a primitive Christian title that preceded "Jesus Christ," and actually a proper title, since Christ was not Jesus' surname but was the word christos, the Greek rendition of the Hebrew word mochiach (Messiah -- "anointed one," or "Christ, the anointed"). "Christ Jesus" is used one time by Matthew only. Yet not only is "Christ Jesus" used exclusively by Paul, Paul also uses the more familiar "Jesus Christ" interchangeably and just as much, which surprisingly, the other authors also do not use as often, except in Acts. The Greek word for the "Lord" is kuvrio, once erroneously thought of as a term solely derived from Hellenized philosophy, which has since been debunked.[6] The word was used by Jewish rabbis and scribes who wrote the Greek Septuagint (Hebrew Old Testament translated into Greek around the 3rd century BCE) as a substitute for the name YHWH (Yahweh) wirtten in the Hebrew texts, called the Tetragrammaton.[7] Both the gospel and epistle writers used this word to identify Jesus exhaustively, as did Paul likewise, but what is remarkable in Paul's case is that:

 

  1. He used the full title "Lord (kuvrio) Jesus Christ," recognizing him as Lord in the same title, clearly an advanced Christology of Jesus, and a full title that the gospel authors also oddly did not use as often (making it very difficult to argue later interpolation).
  2. He identified God and Christ as kuvrio interchangeably.
  3. He directly associated Christ with kuvrio (LORD) from passages of the Old Testament Septuagint that identified Yahweh:

 
Paul:                                                                                              Old Testament Septuagint:

Romans 10:13-14 "... for, 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.' How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?"

 

Joel 2:32 "And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls."

1 Corinthians 1:30-31 "It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'"

Jeremiah 9:24 "'but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the LORD."

1 Corinthians 2:16 "'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ."

Isaiah 40:13 "Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?

Philippians 2:10-11 "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Isaiah 45:22-23 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear."

 

1 Thessalonians 3:13 "May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones."

Zechariah 14:5 "You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD my God will come, and all the holy ones with him."

1 Corinthians 1:8 "who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."

1Corinthians 5:5 "I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus."

1 Thessalonians 5:2 "For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night."

 

Joel 1:15 "Alas for the day! For the day of the LORD is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty."

 
Isaiah 13:9 "Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, yo make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it."

1 Corinthians 1:2 "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours:"

Zephaniah 3:9 "For then I will give to the peoples purified lips, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder." 

 
Zechariah 13:9 "And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested, they will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are My people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is my God.'"

 
These are actually just examples, as this occurs quite often throughout Paul's teachings. In these instances, everywhere Yahweh was addressed as kuvrio in the Septuagint, Paul substituted it for Christ. It certainly would not be possible to argue that Paul didn't realize the word was a reverential Greek substitute for YHWH because even if Paul wasn't fluent in Hebrew (which is an unlikely possibility, being a pharisee of the Second Temple period) the word was typically written in Greek texts with a distinct Greek substitute.[8] According to Richard Bauckham, the idea that Paul was distinguishing between a high God and a secondary God (Christ) is also not plausible. More often than not, Paul used the referent of Yahweh (kuvrio) to identify the high God, or God the Father. In fact, Paul used kuvrio less frequently to identify Christ compared to the times he used it to identify God the Father, so not only was it used interchangeably between God and Christ, but he was obviously not careless with it, and that he carefully kept within the parameters of monotheism (1 Corinthians 15:23-28). There is no significant evolution or progression here from Paul to the gospel works, being that the word is used and applied similarly in the gospels. Though Matthew, Luke and John directly apply it to Jesus more frequently than Mark, Paul's extraordinary and frequent use of it and his correlation with that of Yahweh of the Septuagint is a rather gross anachronism if we suppose Paul's theology is the posterior of the gospel's theology.

Paul's claim that believers would rise again during the return of Christ was hinted at in the gospels in more simplistic forms (Matthew 24:30-31; Mark 12:18-23,13:26-27; John 11:23-24), yet was also nowhere as developed as we in Paul's theology (see 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17; 1 Corinthians 6:14, 15:17-23; 2 Corinthians 4:14) .

The title Son of man, which is used 85 times combined in all four gospels as a claim Jesus directly used to refer to himself, and a rather ambiguous and unquestionably primitive Semitic designation,[9] is not used by Paul at all, nor by any other New Testament writer other than the author of the book of Revelation. This term, among many, is one of the most severe wrenches in the progression/evolution theory because it simply doesn't make sense that Son of man, once again an unquestionable Semitic term, had developed and been popularized subsequent to Paul and the early apostles, particularly by non-Jewish adherents. The use of the title Son of Man is scant, at best, in any Christian apocryphal literature that comes after the gospels (indeed used scarcely even among modern Christians), thus becomes apparent that the later apocryphal works are merely emulating the language from the primitive gospel works.

Gospel of John and Paul

Scholars consider the areas where the gospel of John profoundly identifies Christ as logos (the Word), who was with God from the beginning (John 1:1-5, 1:14), as ultra advanced Christology. However, not only does this fall flat in the face of how Paul associated "Lord" (kuvrio) with both Christ and God, discussed previously, but equating Christ to the Word of God was nothing new to Paul...

 
Romans 10:4-8:                                             Deuteronomy 30:10-14:                              

Paul: "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses describes in this way the righteousness that is by the law: 'The man who does these things will live by them. But the righteousness that is by faith says: Do not say in your heart, who will ascend into heaven? - that is, to bring Christ down - or who will descend into the deep? - that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,' that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming:"

Moses: "if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.
 

Notice that when we compare Paul's description of Moses' declaration from the Old Testament and the declaration from the Old Testament itself, Moses was specifically referring to the commandments that were ascending to heaven and descending into the deep that had been delivered to him by the "LORD their God," as the written word of God. Paul clearly substitutes Christ in this case with the commandments (or word) from God that was delivered to Moses. Here are some other theological correlations between Paul and John:

 

 

Paul: "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born (ginomai) of a woman, born (ginomai) under the Law" [Galatians 4:4].

John: "And the Word became (ginomai) flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" [John 1:14].

 

It’s certainly no accident that the word ginomai is the same word John and Paul both used to describe Jesus’ unique origins, because the word ginomai, which was translated as "born" (by Paul) and "became" (by John) denotes "made" or "come into being" in the Greek. However, ginomai was not ever used by Paul and John to describe a typical birth. They both always used the Greek derivative gennao in instances of natural birth, which denotes "born" (sometimes "fathered") more explicitly (examples: John: 1:12-13, 3:3, 9:2, etc; Paul: Romans 9:11; 1Corinthians 4:15; Galatians 4:23, etc). 

What is most stark about Paul's theological resemblance of John's theology is Paul's allusion to Christ's preexistence with God, or the Wisdom concepts he equates to Christ, or the theology that Christ existed even before creation of the universe (see Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:30, 2:6-8, 8:6; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 1:15-20). Though these concepts are scarce in the synoptics, it rings eerily similar to the dynamics of John's Christology, particularly John's declaration of Christ as the the logos -- "the Word" -- (John 1:1-5), also found in Jesus' prayer (John 17:5). Any argument that might suggest some sort of evolution/progression of theology, especially from Judaism to non-Judaism between the time period of Paul and John, separated by at least four decades or more is further shattered by stark correlations to pre-Christian Jewish texts between these two writers and their works -- i.e. Proverbs (chap. 8), Wisdom in Sirach, and Wisdom of Solomon. So not only do we have a theological connection between Paul and John, but a stark Jewish connection to ancient Jewish literature between the two (compare the three with each link):

 

Christ/Wisdom with God in the beginning:

Jewish texts - Prov. 8:30; Sir. 1:1; Wis. 9:4
Paul - Rom. 16:25-26; Phil. 2:5-6
John - John 1:1

Christ/Wisdom co-creator of the universe:

Jewish texts - Prov. 3:19, 8:25
Paul - 1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:15-16
John - John 1:1-3

Christ/Wisdom provides light which overcomes the darkness:

Jewish texts - Prov. 8:22, Wis. 7:26, 7:29-30; Sir. 4:12
Paul - Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor. 4:6, Eph. 5:13-14
John - John 1:4-9, 8:12, 12:35-36, 12:46

Christ/Wisdom provides life:

Jewish texts - Prov. 8:34; Sir. 4:13, 24:25
Paul - Rom 5:17-18; 2 Cor 2:16
John - John 14:6

Christ/Wisdom provides immortality/eternal life:

Jewish texts - Wis. 8:13, 8:17; Sir. 24:31
Paul - Rom 6:22-23
John - John 11:25

Paul vs. the gospels

Some of the attempts at remedies for this glaring problem for post-70 proponents have not been few or far in between. I've seen attempts to simply discredit some of the things we mentioned previously about Paul's background. I've seen attempts to tie Paul's teachings with proto-Gnosticism, and though this was an argument made by some around the 19-20th century, current scholars have abandoned this view in place of a "framework of mainstream Judaism" that parallels the Dead Sea scrolls instead.[10]

Moreover, it wasn't like Paul was an apostle to marginal or insignificant churches. Romans (Rome, a church that was founded by others, most likely the apostle Peter, prior to Paul's rise in the ministry -- Romans 15:20-22), Corinth (Greece), Galatia, Ephesus (Asia Minor), Philippi (Macedonia), Colossians and Thessalonica were churches Paul had either founded or communicated with that weren't exactly chopped liver. In fact, one might conclude with a deal of accuracy that these were the churches or central churches other than Jerusalem in the first century. Though some of Paul's letters are disputed as being authored by Paul, notably Ephesians and Colossians, the argument still miserably fails to explain the similarities between Paul's undisputed works and John's gospel, as we previously discussed, or how this logically supports an advanced Christological evolution argument. It simply doesn't.

I've also seen arguments that there was a great division within the first century church by arguing more of a theological rift between Paul and the other apostles than there actually was, and more importantly, what that rift was really about. In other words, since Paul proclaimed himself the "apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 15:16), even though he was a former Jewish Pharisee himself, and since there were indeed contentions over certain issues of the law between zealous Jewish Christians at Jerusalem and Gentile Christians outside Jerusalem with Paul in between, the notion is that there is no reason to imagine there were contentious differences of theological doctrine, of which we can imagine occurred between Paul and the communities of which the gospels were written to or by.

In light of this, critics have tried to exploit a rift between Paul and the other apostles in regards to theology by misinterpreting Paul's Galatians letter addressing a completely different issue (Galatians 2:1-9), in addition to Paul's argument with Peter. However, this feud clearly had nothing to do with anything specifically about the divine nature of Jesus. It was about formality and conduct; specifically circumcision and eating or not eating with Gentiles. Paul indicates the conflict occurred at Antioch (Galatians 2:11), which is corroborated in the book of Acts (15:1-2). Paul states that because of the issue of circumcision -- with no evidence that it actually arose between the initial apostles themselves (he only states that these men were followers of the apostle James) -- he submitted his own doctrine to the Jerusalem church and capitulated to their authority. It's important to note that Paul clearly recognized the Jerusalem church authority here and elsewhere in his letters, such as his Romans letter (Romans 15:30-31). The fact is, this is why he even bothered submitting his doctrine to the Jerusalem church, which he admits himself was the purpose, so it’s a bit hard for anyone to argue he was preaching a different theological doctrine than that of the Jerusalem church. Paul then states that "they added nothing to my message" (Galatians 2:6), which is also corroborated in Acts that illustrates Peter's and James' indifference to the issues of the Mosaic law, particularly the practice of circumcision, and insisted on not adding these burdens onto the Gentiles (Acts 15:1-19).

The only division Paul describes directly between actual apostles occurred between himself and Peter over the issue of eating with Gentiles, another formality about the law (Galatians 2:11-14). Peter apparently gave in to the pressure of pretense, something he was unconcerned about until his Jewish conservative peers were in his presence. Though the feud about the Mosaic law between Paul and others who were followers of James got so hot at Galatia that Paul identified them as "false brethren," this actually further supports the argument there were no contentions about actual Christology. Had this feud been based on deeper issues of the nature of Christ and his role as Messiah and Son of God, which was an integral part of Paul's message, or more than what Paul described it was, Paul would have certainly addressed these differences, especially since this would have further served Paul’s own agenda in favor of his Christology against theirs.

 

A theory that works with the data

Paul's Christology irreparably complicates the "linear-doctrinal-evolution/progression-of-theology" theory that is often used to support a post-70 gospel date, and vice versa. The data makes it clear that a post-70 proponent has no other option than to sponsor this progressive theory not only in face of the theology of Paul (40-60s), which is either not as deeply expressive in the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark and Luke -- supposedly dating 70-90s CE -- or expressed differently and sometimes more primitively, but theology that is similarly found in the gospel of John -- supposedly dating 90-100 CE.

This problem is especially unusual in the case of the gospel of Luke, the supposed third synoptic gospel, authored by the individual who was either Paul's evangelistic companion (undoubtedly the author of the gospel of Luke and Acts; discussed here: Meet the Ghost Writers, Luke/Acts) or a huge admirer of Paul and who would have presumably been influenced by Paul's theology the most. In light of this, had Luke completed his gospel prior or about the time of Paul's prominent rise, which began in the 50-60s, then followed with his book Acts (which was no later than the mid-60s; discussed in Part II), perhaps composing it as he traveled with Paul or shortly after Paul's imprisonment at Rome, these glaring anachronisms are easily solved.

If Luke came before Matthew and Mark, this would obviously push Mark and Matthew's gospel back earlier as well. Now, putting this in a pre-70 context, it all fits like a snug historical glove. In comparison to Paul's Christology and theological views, the synoptic gospels are in fact the primitive works, completed earlier than some of the contemporary Christological ideas Paul was expressing in his writings to the main churches of the time. Likewise, Paul would have been expounding his deeper theology on gospel tradition that was already laid down as a foundation and known to these churches (which I will discuss in the next article), taking prior familiarity of his readers about these traditions for granted. Moreover, the explanation of why the Christology in John's gospel, which came after the other three, profoundly parallels some of Paul's theology also makes perfect sense. This Christology presumably had become commonplace during the time the two, Paul and John, began to scribe their writings.

Whether this theory is correct or not, bottom line, the theory that the gospels must post-date Paul because of the gospel's "advanced theology" is a theory that is not only erroneous, but with contrary evidence that flings the theory into nothing short of the absurd.

 
Click here for Part V, or here to go home

------------------------------------------------- 

Source References

1. Richard A. Burridge and Graham Gould claim: "There are those who argue that Jesus is a figment of the Church’s imagination, that there never was a Jesus at all. I have to say that I do not know any respectable critical scholar who says that any more. Jesus Now and Then, p.34; 2004.

    Robert E. Van Voorst declares of the Jesus-myth theory: "Some readers may be surprised or shocked that many books and essays – by my count, over one hundred – in the past two hundred years have fervently denied the very existence of Jesus. Contemporary New Testament scholars have typically viewed their arguments as so weak or bizarre that they relegate them to footnotes, or often ignore them completely." Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, p.6;  2000.

    Graham Stanton: "Today nearly all historians, whether Christians or not, accept that Jesus existed and that the gospels contain plenty of valuable evidence which has to be weighed and assessed critically. There is general agreement that, with the possible exception of Paul, we know far more about Jesus of Nazareth than about any first- or second century Jewish or pagan religious teacher." The Gospels and Jesus, p.145; 2002.

    Walter P. Weaver: "The denial of Jesus' historicity has never convinced any large number of people, in or out of technical circles, nor did it in the first part of the century. The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1950, p.71; 1999.

     L. Michael White: "That Jesus was a real figure of First-century Judean history is no longer much questioned, as it once was. Later sources from opposing camps-Romans, Jews, and Christians-show that all sides acknowledged both his life and his death." From Jesus to Christianity, p.95; 2004.  

     Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, and John Dominic Crossan: "There is a consensus of sorts on a basic outline of Jesus' life. Most scholars agree that Jesus was baptized by John, debated with fellow Jews on how best to live according to God's will, engaged in healings and exorcisms, taught in parables, gathered male and female followers from Galilee, went to Jerusalem, and was crucified by Roman soldiers during the governship of Pontious Pilate (26-36 CE)." The Historical Jesus in Context, p.4; 2006.

      Bart Ehrman: "What I think we can say with some confidence is that Jesus actually did die, he probably was buried, and that some of his disciples (all of them? some of them?) claimed to have seen him alive afterward. Among those who made this claim, interestingly enough, was Jesus’ own brother James, who came to believe in Jesus and soon thereafter became one of the principle leaders of the early Christian church." Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, p.229; 1999.

     Also see Jesus Myth Hypothesis: Recent Proponents.

2. See Book of Wisdom.

3. Louis W.D. Davies, Louis Finkelstein, The Cambridge history of Judaism: Volume 2, p.245-277; 2005.

4. See Gamaliel.

5. J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Creeds, pp.22-23; 2006.

    Also see Nicene Creed.

6. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, A Wandering Armenian, pp.115-127; 1979. 

    Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea scrolls and Christian origins, pp.30-31; 2000. 

    William D. Mounce, Greek for the Rest of Us, pp.216-217; 2003.

7. Christopher Mark Tuckett, Christology and the New Testament, pp.20-21; 2001.

    Georg Strecker, Friedrich Wilhelm Horn, Theology of the New Testament, p.87; 2000.

8. Richard Bauckham, Paul's Christology of Divine Identity, (pdf) (html), pp.7-8.

9. A. J. B. Higgins, Jesus and the Son of Man, pp.15-17; 2002.

    Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp.298-303; 2005.

10. John M. G. Barclay, Colossians and Philemon, p.65-67; 2004.

      James D. G. Dunn, Jesus remembered, p.163; 2003.

      Philip Francis Esler, The early Christian world, Volume 2, p.188; 2000.

      Gerard van Groningen, First century gnosticism: Its origin and motifs, p.103-104; 1967.