Archive for August 7th, 2015

Did Paul distort Jesus’s Message?

Posted on 2015 08, 07 by Matt

With increasing volume and frequency the motivations of the Apostle Paul’s contributions to Christianity have been called into question. For sometime, most critical scholars would not dare to paint Paul in a negative light. Even the Jesus Seminar, the group of skeptics that deny nearly every recorded word of Jesus except for easily recalled platitudes “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and render to God, that which is God’s” still accepts the majority of Paul’s writings as authentic. Most critical scholars accept everything from Paul except for the Pastoral Epistles (1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus). Robert Price (who thinks that the extreme skepticism of the Jesus seminar is far too conservative) is one of two New Testament scholars, with pertinent terminal degrees, who argue that Jesus never existed. Even with Price’s extreme skepticism he still held to the authority and authorship of Paul for some time. Price’s view concerning Jesus and Paul however became highly problematic when scholars began to utilize the accepted writings of Paul to refute him. This tactic became so successful that Robert Price eventually relented and…decided that Paul never existed as well.


The problem with Presupposition


The difficulty when considering the New Testament as a purely historical document is that no one is impartial when it comes to this text. It seems there is no one who does not have a strong opinion concerning the New Testament and strong opinions always carry with it the weight of “presupposition” or bias. Humans are already incurably biased (a good litmus test to determine if one is biased, is to simply ask her if she is). People who are the most limited by bias and presupposition will always be the people who think that she is completely free from it. I am horribly biased toward Christianity; it is not only my life but also my livelihood. However, there are a few safeguards I can implement to limit the degree of presupposition when bearing in mind the New Testament, specifically when considering the text purely as an historical document.

Every “skeptic” I dialogue with concerning doubts about the historical reliability of Jesus, The Apostle Paul, or The New Testament has never reached her errant conclusions via a systematic or methodological approach to history—most “skeptics” base her errant conclusions off of vague talking points given by other skeptics. Further, my suspicions concerning lack of method become apparent when the skeptic’s plight for obscurity in history is limited solely to the New Testament. If one is only skeptical concerning the New Testament, then not only is this not true skepticism, but it is presuppositional imbedded skepticism.

Even when pressed, the skeptic cannot even create (or know how to begin to create) a logically consistent and sustainable model of philosophy of history that could be applicable to any historical event, person, or document, let alone the New Testament. My usual response is to (via Socratic method) create a philosophy of history with the skeptic in tow. By the time we have completed the list of desirable attributes for a profitable philosophy of history, the list usually includes every areas of which the New Testament has abundant evidence (Early eye witnesses testimony, multiple eyewitness testimonies, embarrassing facts, enemy attestation, documents that undergo textual criticism, and documents that have a short time frame from when they were written and when the earliest copies were found). At this point, it is quite easy to determine if this skepticism is based on presupposition or not. If after laying out the historical method and how this method provides sufficient evidence for New Testament reliability she is still skeptical then the evidence is not at issue but rather the culprit is presupposition.

Since attacks on Jesus have for the most part completely failed, the source of these attacks has switched targets and become focused on Paul. Thus, instead of questioning the scope of Jesus’ claims, “skeptics” have left Him alone (for now) and have gone after Paul arguing that he never knew Jesus, and that he created a religion independent from Jesus and Jesus’ message. This view will not last long because it is completely absurd. I wish to present a series of evidences, which will not only expose the inherent presupposition against Paul, but also utilize internal Biblical evidence, historiography, and reason to prove that Paul was the disciple of the historical Jesus.