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Finding Faith: The Historical Jesus in the Undisputed Paulines

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding Faith:

The Historical Jesus in the Undisputed Paulines

 

by

 

 

Mike Gantt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published by Mike Gantt at Shakespir

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright Notice

Self-published 2016.

Self-published with Shakespir 2017.

 

I claim no copyright for this book. However, English Bibles are copyrighted – hence the notice I am required to give below. You are free to copy anything of mine you want, but you do not have the same liberty where the Bible verses are concerned.

 

Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the

New American Standard Bible®, (NASB)

Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995

by The Lockman Foundation

Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

Title Page

 

Copyright Page

 

Dedication

 

Preface

 

Chapter 1 – The Historical Jesus

 

Chapter 2 – The Undisputed Paulines

 

Chapter 3 – How We Will Learn from These Letters

 

Chapter 4 – Housekeeping Notes on Catalog

 

Chapter 5 – References to His Birth

 

Chapter 6 – References to His Name

 

Chapter 7 – References to His Gender

 

Chapter 8 – Reference to His Mother

 

Chapter 9 – References to His Brothers

 

Chapter 10 – References to His Ancestors

 

Chapter 11 – References to His Eating and Drinking

 

Chapter 12 – References to His Maturity

 

Chapter 13 – References to His Location

 

Chapter 14 – References to His Occupation

 

Chapter 15 – References to His Manner

 

Chapter 16 – References to His Body (His Flesh and Blood)

 

Chapter 17 – References to His Sufferings

 

Chapter 18 – References to His Crucifixion

 

Chapter 19 – Reference to His Being Killed

 

Chapter 20 – References to His Death

 

Chapter 21 – References to His Sacrifice

 

Chapter 22 – References to His Burial

 

Chapter 23 – Review of the References to Jesus on Earth

 

Chapter 24 – The Pivot

 

Chapter 25 – References to His Resurrection

 

Chapter 26 – References to His Post-Resurrection, Pre-Ascension Appearances

 

Chapter 27 – Selected References to His Ascension into Heaven

 

Chapter 28 – Selected References to His Presence in Heaven

 

Chapter 29 – Selected References to His Heavenly Activities

 

Chapter 30 – Selected References to His Coming in Heavenly Glory

 

Chapter 31 – Review of the References to Jesus in Heaven

 

Chapter 32 – Review of the Selected References to Jesus on Earth and in Heaven

 

Chapter 33 – Revisiting the Corinthian Digest: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

Chapter 34 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Scriptures

 

Chapter 35 – The Corinthian Digest: According to – and Activating – the Gospel

 

Chapter 36 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Apostles

 

Chapter 37 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Faith

 

Chapter 38 – Beyond the Corinthian Digest: The Absolute Necessity of Historicity

 

Chapter 39 – What We Have Learned from the Undisputed Paulines

 

Chapter 40 – Conclusion

 

About the Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

 

 

 

Though its title may sound academic, this book is written for anyone wanting evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  Drawing on a portion of the New Testament regarded as authentic by the vast majority of both ancient and modern scholars, this book presents the evidence for Jesus in a way that any reader can access.   Whether you’ve lost your faith, or you’ve never had it, or even if you have faith but want to be more certain about it, this book will help you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preface

This book is written for those who don’t know for sure that Jesus lived or that He was raised from the dead. The purpose of the book is to enable you to be certain of these things. If you’re looking to find faith, this book will help you find it. Even if you’ve lost it.

 

The book functions as a Bible study that you can read, but also that you can use as an outline for doing your own Bible study. Either way, the goal of the study is to strengthen your awareness of the historicity of Jesus Christ. Those who doubt the historical validity of His life – especially His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead – are just insufficiently aware of the overwhelming evidence that exists. If you already believe these things, this book will only strengthen your conviction that they are so.

 

This book makes no attempt to survey all the historical evidence we have about Jesus of Nazareth. Far from it. Rather, this book selects a sliver of the evidence, and uses that sliver to establish the critical facts of Jesus’ life. The reason for surveying only a portion of the evidence is to save you time. If your goal is to analyze enough evidence to come to a verdict one way or the other about Jesus, why not take the most direct path?

 

I’m not talking about taking shortcuts. I’m talking about focusing on the issue at hand and avoiding distractions. I’m talking about a way that you can get straight to the heart of the matter on a question of immeasurable significance.

 

With forty chapters, the book may appear long. However, most of the chapters are short, and some are very short. I took this approach because I wanted to show as much of the book’s logic as I could in the table of contents. Also, I wanted to present the material in easily-digestible pieces, with multiple opportunities to pause for reflection.

 

This book certainly does not represent the only way to come to a conclusion on the essential historical facts about Jesus, nor does it necessarily represent the best way. It does, however, represent a time-efficient and straightforward way of making up your mind about Jesus. The time you save can then be spent living for Him instead of just wondering about Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – The Historical Jesus

 

Who was Jesus? What did He do? What happened to Him? Answering these questions is the focus of this book.

 

Some people distinguish “the historical Jesus” from “the Christ of faith.” I don’t. The only Christ I am willing to have faith in is the historical Jesus. I’m unwilling to put my faith in a myth. Therefore, I must have a sense of “the historical Jesus” in my mind if there is ever to be a “Christ of faith” in my heart.

 

Another way of saying this is that whatever theology we have about Jesus must be based on the history we have about Him. If we don’t have a solid history of Him, how can we have a solid theology of Him?

 

The historical Jesus is the one who actually lived on the earth as a human being. He is the one who ate and drank, slept and woke, talked and listened. He is a person who could be known and remembered. He is a person about whom biographical facts could be gathered and written. This Jesus is not the product of anyone’s religious imagination; rather, He is the Jesus who really lived – the Jesus of history.

 

When I say “history,” I simply mean facts about the past. And, of course, “biography” is just the history of an individual person. Therefore, whether I talk about the history of Jesus or the biography of Jesus I’m talking about the same thing: the facts about who He was, what He did, and what happened to Him.

 

Once we have searched out the Jesus of history, we can decide whether He’s a worthy subject for our theology.

 

 

Modern Challenges to the Historicity of Jesus

 

In our time, the historicity of Jesus is being challenged like never before. Yet the irony is that there is no new information which justifies these increasing challenges. Rather it’s the same old unwarranted skepticism, yet it’s put forward far more aggressively. In times past, skeptics would deny that Jesus was raised from the dead. Today some of them will go so far as to say that He never lived at all.

 

Academia is largely dominated by the traditional skeptics who fully accept Jesus as historical…up to the point of His death – and then deny that He was raised from the dead. They do this in a variety of ways, but fundamental to them all is their application of a double standard. That is, they require a standard of evidence for things associated with Jesus of Nazareth that they would never require for any other figure of history. The skepticism of academia is not new but it has become more dominant, more widespread, and more resistant to logic and facts. They tend to shout down opposition rather than interact with it.

 

What is almost altogether new is the Jesus “mythicist” – a person who denies that Jesus ever lived at all. Such persons are seldom credentialed, and operate almost entirely on the Internet. They are too “out there” even for academia. The mythicists try to write and talk as if they use the same methods as professional historians, but the professional historians see through the pretense and won’t go along.

 

These then are the two main challenges to the historicity of Jesus today: those who deny He lived again (traditional skeptics) and those who deny He ever lived at all (hyper-skeptics). Both sets of challengers are more aggressive and strident in their claims than previous generations of skeptics. This book will empower you to examine the history of Jesus for yourself…and then decide whether you think either form of skepticism is warranted.

 

 

Narrowing Our Search

 

We don’t need to know every historical detail there is to know about Jesus – or Plato or Aristotle either, for that matter – before we can decide that He was a true historical figure. We just need some essential facts – specifically, facts relevant to the claim that He died on the cross and rose from the dead three days later.

 

To save time, we are not going to search all of Greco-Roman literature from the first century. We are not even going to search all of the New Testament. We’re going to search about one-fourth of the New Testament – a representative sample of its contents.

 

You might think that we would go to the four Gospels to accomplish this task. We could certainly learn a lot about Jesus from them, but we might also get lost in the forest given all the trees that are there. Therefore, we are instead going to select our New Testament subset from the epistles – writings that were not intended to publicize historical details about Jesus. For this reason alone, it may seem to you an odd choice. Nonetheless, we will surely find in these epistles all the historical data necessary to achieve our purpose. You’ll see what I mean as we go along.

 

Our narrowed field of inquiry will provide us the facts that matter most about the life of Jesus for purposes of faith. And once faith is established, we can subsequently go to the Gospels are learn to our hearts’ content about the One we have come to trust. That’s actually the better way to study the Gospels anyway.

 

For our purposes, we are looking for an outline of Jesus’ life – the broad contours, the headlines of the story, the major milestones, or stages, of His life. We don’t need to know everything He said and did. We just need the key facts of His life and why those facts should compel anyone’s attention. Comparing this to a search of the historicity of, say, George Washington, we are seeking enough material to produce a good encyclopedia entry for Washington, not enough to produce the definitive biography of Washington’s life.

 

Let us turn our attention now to the materials we will use for our study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2 – The Undisputed Paulines

 

The particular epistles which we are going to use for our study are “the undisputed Paulines.” There are seven of them: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. They are a representative sample of New Testament writing, or certainly of New Testament thinking.

 

The term “undisputed Paulines” is certainly not a creation of mine. It’s the way modern Bible scholars refer to these writings. By “Pauline” they mean that the primary author of these epistles is the apostle Paul. By “undisputed” or “uncontested” they mean that modern scholars, generally speaking, agree that their attribution to Paul is not generally a matter for debate. The authorship of the remaining New Testament letters attributed to Paul are, to varying degrees, a subject of controversy among modern scholars. By contrast, ancient scholars were in general agreement that all the letters bearing Paul’s name were actually his.

 

For my part, I side with ancient scholars on the subject of what Paul did and didn’t write. They were closer to the scene and had more ways to verify authorship of New Testament writings than do modern scholars. However, I am willing to narrow the focus of this study to the undisputed Paulines because 1) those readers who side with modern scholars will not be distracted with historical documents whose authorship they doubt, and 2) these seven letters provide a manageable set of source material with more than enough facts to answer our questions.

 

The undisputed Paulines not only address the issue of the historical Jesus, they give some specific details about His life – the collective result of which is a clear biographical outline of Him. These seven letters also affirm the critical importance of His biography – and the critical importance of the veracity of their representations of it – to everyone concerned with the letters.

 

By the way, the term “epistle” is sometimes distinguished from the word “letter” with the former indicating a more formal type correspondence. In this book, however, I use the terms interchangeably. In doing so, I am, of course, following common practice – if not among academics, then at least among everyone else.

 

 

Some Specifics About These Seven Letters

 

There is a general consensus among modern scholars that these letters were written in the first century during the 50’s – a period roughly 15 to 25 years after Jesus lived. We don’t need to be concerned with exact dating of each letter. It is sufficient for our purposes to know that the facts of Jesus’ life were settled and widely-accepted well before the time all of these letters were written.

 

Although all the letters are attributed to Paul, most of them list co-authors. These were various co-workers of Paul – such as Timothy or Silas. While co-authors no doubt contributed to the letters in varying degrees, there’s also no doubt that Paul was always the primary mind behind each letter.

 

Let’s now say a little about each of these epistles.

 

Romans was from Paul alone and addressed to “all who are beloved of God in Rome.” Near the end of the letter, Paul gives personal greetings to well over two dozen individuals by name. Paul wrote the letter in anticipation of visiting the believers in that great city for the first time. He obviously had met, or known of, these folks in other contexts.

1 Corinthians was from Paul and Sosthenes. It was addressed to “the church of God which is at Corinth.” 2 Corinthians was from Paul and Timothy. It was addressed to “the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia” – Achaia being the region in which Corinth was located (modern-day southern Greece). Paul had founded the church in Corinth. The word “saints” means “holy ones” or “those set apart.” In the New Testament, it was synonymous with “believers” or “disciples” – unlike today when it is often reserved for special or select believers. We’ll be sticking with the New Testament usage of the term.

 

Galatians was from Paul “and all the brethren who are with me.” It was addressed to “the churches of Galatia.” Galatia was a region, which was situated in the central part of what we today call Asia Minor (the nation of Turkey). Paul had established multiple churches in the cities of that region.

 

Philippians was from Paul and Timothy to “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” Paul had founded the church there. The city of Philippi is situated in the region of Macedonia, what is today northern Greece.

 

1 Thessalonians was from Paul, Silvanus (Silas), and Timothy, and was sent to “the church of the Thessalonians.” This also was a church that Paul had founded. Like Philippi, the city of Thessalonica was located in Macedonia.

 

Philemon was from Paul and Timothy. It was directed to “Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house.” These folks lived in Colossae (a city of western Asia Minor). This is the shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters. However, it is also clear that this letter is still, like all the rest, public – not private – in nature.

 

 

A Microcosm of the New Testament

 

Again, we’re not cherry-picking these seven books from the New Testament. They are a pre-existing, widely-recognized subset of that collection. We could have chosen some other well-known subset – for example, the General Epistles (James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1 and 2 and 3 John, Jude) or the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). The undisputed Paulines have the advantages of 1) having more modern scholarly support for its authorship claims, and 2) being of optimal size for our study – not too big, not too small.

 

Let me emphasize that I don’t concede for a moment that ancient authorship claims for the rest of the New Testament writings deserve to be doubted. From the standpoint of reliability, any other subset of the New Testament is as worthy for this study as the undisputed Paulines. It’s just that proving authorship is beyond the scope of this book, so it’s more time-efficient to use the subset that provokes the least resistance to its authorship. Every time I say “Paul said,” I don’t want some reader being nagged in his mind by, “But how do we know it was Paul who said it?”

 

The facts we learn in our study of Jesus in the undisputed Paulines will match and complement the facts about Him revealed in the rest of the New Testament. There is no variation on the essential facts of His life anywhere in that collection of 27 writings. The only variations that arise are on minor details – such as, donkeys involved in His entry to Jerusalem, angels at the tomb, and so on. Even such minutia can be reconciled with proper study, but to do so is not within the scope of our book because it is not necessary for the purpose of establishing the historicity of Jesus. In fact, it would be distracting to our purpose. We don’t need to know how many horses George Washington left behind when he crossed the Delaware or how many soldiers were standing at attention when he was inaugurated as president in order to justify his inclusion in an encyclopedia. In fact, it would just unnecessarily bloat his article. We’re going to major on majors and minor on minors.

 

I’m not saying that all subsets of the New Testament will yield an equal number of facts about the life of Jesus. While obviously not containing the vast quantity of facts reported in the four Gospels, the undisputed Paulines do contain more specifics than we’d find in the General Epistles. I am saying that any subset of the New Testament is representative of the superset in terms of reliability and general facts – not in terms of quantity of detail on a specific subject.

 

Although I make occasional reference to other parts of the New Testament in this book, I only show quotes from the seven uncontested letters of Paul. That is to keep our study focused tightly on this representative sample of New Testament thinking. You should think throughout, however, that whether I say it or not (and sometimes I will) the things we learn about the history of Jesus are reflective of what the rest of the New Testament says about that history as well.

 

Having established that we will address these seven letters as a microcosm of the New Testament and not as something anomalous to it, let’s give some thought to how New Testament writings in general, and its epistles particularly, should be approached.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3 – How We Will Learn from These Letters

 

In golf, you “play the ball as it lies.” In cards, you “play the hand you’re dealt.” Likewise, in studying the New Testament writings, we accept the texts for what they are – not what we or someone else wishes them to be.

 

 

The Texts Are Stable

 

Though I certainly believe that the New Testament is the word of God, we are not approaching these writings in this study as if they were the word of God. That, too, would be beyond the scope of our study and something you may decide after we complete the study. Rather, we are approaching these writings as what they are at face value…what no one can reasonably deny that they are: artifacts of history.

 

For purposes of our study, we’re not saying that the authors made no errors or that they spoke infallibly. We are ascribing to these letters no divine authorization. We’re reading them and studying them just as we might read and study the work of the “committees of correspondence” in the time of the American revolution or as we might study correspondence between leaders and followers of labor union movement. In fact, we’re treating them just as we would treat letters between your family, friends, and work associates if they were preserved for study at some future date. We just want to know what the documents say.

 

As historical writings go, we can be more sure of the texts of the New Testament than we can of any other ancient writings – more sure than we can be of Plato’s writings, Aristotle’s writings, Livy’s writings or any other ancient author’s writings. No original documents have been preserved from antiquity; the writings materials they used wouldn’t have allowed it. Therefore, textual reliability of ancient writings is determined by the quantity of manuscript copies we possess and their chronological proximity to the original. On both counts, the writings of the New Testament are the best attested writings in all of ancient literature.

 

What disagreements exist about the text of the New Testament are about minor, not major, matters. There are not two versions of Romans competing for authenticity. Rather, there are discussions, for example, about whether the one-and-only appearance of the name “Junias” in the entire New Testament (Rom 16:7) should be rendered as “Junia” instead. How’s that for a controversy? When it comes to basic wording, the thousands of ancient New Testament manuscripts we have all communicate the same message. Jesus is always the one who is declared as Lord; it’s never John the Baptist or Peter. Whenever the means of Jesus’ execution is mentioned, it’s always crucifixion – never beheading or stoning. Peter is always described as a disciple of Jesus, never as a Roman centurion or temple priest. And so it goes.

 

If you’re going to doubt the text of what we read in the New Testament then, to be consistent, you’d have to be unsure about anything ever said by Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Thucydides, Cicero, Livy, and scores of other writers upon whom classical studies entirely rest. The New Testament is, by far, the most stable of all ancient texts. We know what they say. It’s what they’ve always said. That’s what it means that a text is stable.

 

Therefore, we will read the texts and accept them as they present themselves. You can decide whether you think the texts we study are lying about what they are saying, but there’s no decision to be made about what they are saying. They say what they say. And they always have.

 

 

The Texts Are Not Direct Answers to Our Questions

 

There is no book of the New Testament that begins, “To whom it may concern in the 21st Century…” The first century folks who wrote these texts were writing to each other, not to posterity. Someone may argue that they were writing for posterity, but that’s quite different from saying they were writing to posterity. Thus we will not find an FAQ page in the New Testament, so there’s no sense looking for something like that.

 

Not only were the New Testament documents written between contemporaries, they were written between fellow believers. That is, all the texts were written for people who had come to believe in Jesus; none were addressed to skeptics. The only exception to this might be the Gospel of John, and even in that book the intent seems to be shoring up doubters rather than converting skeptics. Thus the New Testament is a collection of internal communications for the Christian movement. To be understood, they must be read with that context in mind.

 

Again, there is not a single book of the New Testament that is dedicated to explaining Christianity to outsiders. And the epistles, for the most part, seem to have been written to address specific issues in specific times and places. Since the texts are not directed to you and me, and the questions we have, we are going to have to dig a little for our answers. But only a little.

 

 

The Texts Were Written for Public Reading

 

The letters of Paul were written to be read aloud in the churches to which they were sent (1 Thess 5:27). Literacy rates in the first century were much lower than they are today – probably 10% or 20 % at the most. And since any copies had to be made by hand, copies were much more expensive and time-consuming to make than they are now. Texts such as these, therefore, were written to be read aloud to a group. That’s how someone like Paul could communicate to the congregations for which he felt responsibility, but from which he was separated at the time.

 

By the way, there’s a mistake that some modern skeptics make about these literacy rates in antiquity, especially among Jewish and Christian populations. That is, these erring skeptics assume that because someone in ancient times couldn’t read that he couldn’t know the contents of written documents. That’s an absurd assumption. A first-century synagogue listening to someone read one of Paul’s letters could be populated with nothing but illiterate people except for the person reading the letter, yet, once the letter was read aloud, everyone in the room would know its contents. We can recognize a similar dynamic in our day. Occasionally, someone on the news will say something like, “The President of France today stated that…” When that happens, I learn what the French president said…even though I don’t speak a word of French. Why? Because the news reporter gives an English translation of what the French president said in French. Readers in first-century congregations were like translators at the United Nations – linguists who helped everyone understand each other. Therefore, the literacy rates of the congregations to which Paul addressed his letters was no impediment at all to his getting his message to them.

 

Initially, the epistles were probably read by whoever hand-carried them from Paul to the congregation – usually one or more of his co-workers. They could explain anything to the congregation that might be unclear from the text alone. As the workers moved on to the next stop, the letters would continue to be read by some literate member of the congregation, along with some portion of the Old Testament. This was the common practice when the people of God gathered: read from the prophets (that is, what we have come to call the Old Testament) and the apostles (that is, what we have come to call the New Testament).

 

As individual congregants would travel from one city to another – whether for personal, business, or missionary reasons – these letters of the apostles could be copied from one congregation to the next. It’s not hard to imagine, for example, a citizen of Philippi going on the road to sell his wares and finding himself in Thessalonica, only a hundred or so miles down the road. He encounters a believer there and, the next thing you know, he’s in a meeting where someone is reading a letter from Paul addressed to the congregation. He speaks up, “Hey, I’m from Philippi and we have a letter from Paul, too. If you can arrange to get us a copy of yours, we can do the same for you.” In ways such as this, the letters eventually extended their reach throughout the Greco-Roman world the way leaven extends itself through a lump of dough.

 

By the way, the terms “synagogue,” “congregation,” “church,” and “assembly” could all be used interchangeably in New Testament times. In our time, we are accustomed to think of “synagogue” as a Jewish congregation or building and “church” as a Christian congregation or building, but these distinct meanings only developed and hardened after the New Testament age. Be aware of this when you’re reading the quotations I’ll be bringing you from the undisputed Paulines.

 

Recalling the brief overview of the seven uncontested letters of Paul in the previous chapter, you can easily picture the relatively large number of people who were exposed to these letters from the very beginning. Believers in Thessalonica, Philippi, Colossae, Corinth and greater Achaia, throughout Galatia, and, of course, Rome would have heard them read. Then, as the letters were copied and taken from one congregation to another, even more people would have been exposed to their content. With the undisputed Paulines alone, we have a geographic reach from as far east as Asia Minor to as far west as Rome, Italy – a distance of well over a thousand miles.

 

The point of all this is that we should not think of these letters as correspondence that just went from one person to one other person and then were stuck in a drawer. On the contrary, they were very public documents from the initial sending and receiving – with multiple authors and far more multiple recipients. And these letters quickly became even more public, spreading to congregations well beyond the ones initially addressed. Thus the contents of these letters were public knowledge in the Christian movement from one end of the Roman Empire to the other in the latter half of the first century.

 

 

The Texts Reveal Common Understandings

 

If these letters don’t directly address the questions we have about who Jesus was, what He did, and what happened to Him, how are they going to help us? By answering our questions indirectly.

 

While Paul never displayed the need to inform his addressees of historical facts about Jesus, he did seek often to remind them of these facts…and to explain the implications of these facts to them. So profound were the facts of Jesus’ life, that after announcing these facts to a new group of people (Jews first, but Gentiles, too), the apostles would be immediately consumed with imparting the meaning and implications of these facts to those who had accepted them as true. If persecution quickly ensued, the apostles may have been driven from town and would have to continue communications with the congregation by means of one of these letters.

 

Because these letters are written to people who had previously received and accepted instruction about Jesus, we can identify many points in these letters where Paul is making reference to a historical fact about Jesus that they all already believe is true – either because they witnessed it firsthand or because they accepted the testimony of such witnesses. Paul is writing to make some theological or spiritual point, and the reference to a historical fact about Jesus is just the means to do this. These truths about Jesus’ life were known and understood by senders and receivers of the letters alike. Sometimes these biographical facts are mentioned in a very self-conscious way and sometimes in an almost offhand way. These common understandings of the history of Jesus permeated the consciousness of the early Christians. Thus the frequent references to them that we find in the letters.

 

 

Absence of Controversy

 

We can read about plenty of controversies in the New Testament, and even in these seven letters: about circumcision, about baptism, about eating meat sacrificed to idols, about spiritual gifts, and about other things. However, when it comes to historical facts about Jesus, you will only notice an absence of controversy. Instead, there was common understanding of all the essential biographical facts.

 

Paul would remind his readers of these historical facts or he would explain them, but he was never introducing or defending them. Everyone had learned what the facts of the faith were; it was part of becoming a Christian. These Christians didn’t question the faith, but they did have questions about how to live out that faith. Though Paul would give warnings about false teachers, practically all controversies were about meanings and ramifications of the historical facts – not the historical facts themselves.

 

Having become aware of, and settled upon, the legitimacy of Jesus’ biography and His status as Lord, the people of the undisputed Paulines were focused on how to live lives pleasing to Him. If He was Lord, they must trust and obey Him. Therefore, Paul and his co-workers write letters of explanation and exhortation with this in view. And the receivers of these letters would attempt to put into practice what they read, or maybe ask questions about what they were reading. The history of Jesus was thus a settled issue, and it was the response to that history that gave rise to all the back and forth.

 

What controversy existed about the historical Jesus was between unbelievers and believers. That’s why the absence of this kind of controversy among believers – those who were sending and receiving these seven letters. That they had settled their minds on these historical issues was what put them in the ranks of believers. Rather, what they grappled to agree upon was how to live holy, how to live in purity, how to live in righteousness, how to live worthy of the One they now believed had called them to Himself.

 

There is, by the way, an irony here. In the time of the undisputed Paulines, there was no controversy in the church about Jesus’ history, but plenty of controversy about how to please Him. By contrast, our day features much controversy in the church about the historical Jesus but far less zeal for pleasing Him. That the biography of Jesus, settled so long ago by people in a far better position to check it out than we are, is controversial in modern times is peculiar indeed.

 

Let us therefore leave aside the controversies and uncertainties of modern Christians, and rather focus on those things about which ancient Christians were quite certain. Well before the completion of our study, you won’t have to be in doubt about what they all accepted as factual, certain, and uncontroversial about Jesus’ life.

 

 

We Will Catalog The Common Understandings

 

Sprinkled throughout the undisputed Paulines are references to Jesus’ birth, name, gender, mother, brothers, ancestors, growth, maturity, ministry activities, manner of life including His humility and obedience, His flesh, His blood, His suffering, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and ongoing activities. As you can tell, I’ve put the list in chronological – that is, historical – order. That seems to make sense, given our purpose. (Some of you may blanch at the last three on the list, thinking them not to be the business of historians, but please bear with me until we get there; I’ll offer my justification for their inclusion then.) We will attempt to catalog, if not all the historical references, at least a great many – and more than enough to succeed at our study.

 

There will not be anything like an equal number of references to each historical fact on the list. For example, there are many more references in these seven letters to Jesus’ death than there is to His having been born. Many more. But if you know that a person in history died, how often do you have to be told that said historical person had previously been born?

 

Though it may seem tedious to you at times, the cumulative effect of cataloging all these historical references to Jesus is that you will realize 1) how well known were the basic historical facts of His life, 2) how little controversy there was about them, and 3) that practically all Christian misunderstanding and disagreement stemmed from what Christians were to do in light of the historical facts about Jesus rather than the facts themselves.

 

There does not need to be a quest for the historical Jesus. The most important facts about Him are already in plain view. They’re resident in documents that have been around for a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4 – Housekeeping Notes on Catalog

 

Before reading through the catalog of verses from the undisputed Paulines that I’ve assembled, let me explain a few of the mechanical aspects.

 

The categories I’ve created for the historical references is sliced pretty thinly. I did this for your ease of reference in case you wanted to revisit certain categories. Lumping the data into fewer categories, it seemed to me, would make the data appear more imposing and less inviting. Still, any categorization is a judgment call and someone else might have organized them differently. When I thought a given category might not be intuitive to most readers, I tried to explain it in that chapter. Just keep in mind that it’s what the letters say that’s important, not how we organize what they say.

 

Because I’ve sliced the data thinly, some of the chapters are extremely short with only a few verses – or even just one. As for the categories with longer lists, you can either skim them to get the gist or slow down and study each verse one at a time. The choice will be yours. Again, because the table of contents is built to support referencing, you can always easily go back to spend more time on any specific category. By the way, most of the lists in the beginning are exhaustive (seeking to include every single verse that fits that category), but become selective (seeking to include only examples of the verses that exist) later on. I’ll explain why when we make the switch.

 

I’ve tried to avoid double counting the verses because I don’t want to inflate the evidence. If there is a reference to two different historical facts about Jesus in one verse, then two verses show up – each one in a different category. However, I don’t count factual reference twice. That is, if a verse with a single factual reference could be placed in either of two categories (such as “Crucifixion” or “Death”), I only placed it in one of them.

 

Although any English Bible would work for this kind of study, I use the New American Standard Bible (NASB; www.lockman.org). One of its features is that anytime a New Testament verse is quoting an Old Testament verse, the quoted portion is rendered in all capital letters. This is a good way to alert the reader to this helpful information. In such cases, I’ve added the chapter and verse for the quote so that you can look it up if you want. If you do look it up, be sure to note when the quotation is marked as being from the Septuagint.

 

The Septuagint was the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (that is, what we call the Old Testament). This means there has been both a Hebrew Old Testament and a Greek Old Testament since just before the time of Christ. The New Testament writers sometimes quoted from one and sometimes from the other. The differences between the Greek and Hebrew Old Testaments are slight but can be confusing when you’re looking at a specific verse. The NASB Old Testament translates from the Hebrew Old Testament, so a New Testament quote of the Septuagint will sometimes vary from what you’ll read in the NASB Old Testament. If this seems confusing to you, just ignore it because it’s not essential to the main purpose of the study. I only mention it because some readers like to work the finer points as well as the main ones.

 

By the way, keep in mind that when modern writers like me refer to the Old Testament, we say “Old Testament” or “the Hebrew Bible,” or “the Hebrew Scriptures” – but the New Testament writers never refer to it that way. Rather, they speak of “the Scriptures” or “the Law of Moses,” or “the Prophets” or something else. This is because, of course, there was no New Testament at the time that the New Testament was written. The writings weren’t made into a single collection of 27 writings until well after the lifetimes of the authors. But enough about terminology.

 

An alternative way to approach the subject we are studying would be to produce your own catalog. To do so, you only need to read the seven letters yourself. That might not be a bad thing to do in any case. These seven constitute just under one-fifth of the New Testament by word count. If your reading speed is average, it should take you about two hours to read them. Maybe you could allow another hour or two for the fact that it’s ancient literature and you’re used to reading modern literature and you’re still only talking about 3-4 hours. Of course, producing a catalog would take you a lot longer than that. These are just options to consider.

 

As the catalog is built, I’ll help you consolidate and analyze the findings. Thus as the book goes along, you’ll find fewer Bible verses to read and more text from me. Some other points are easier to explain as we go along, so let’s get started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5 – References to His Birth

 

Though the apostle Paul and those he taught were far more concerned with what Jesus did at the end of His life than what happened at the beginning, still there are a couple of mentions of Jesus’ birth in these seven letters.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, – Rom 1:1-3 [emphasis added]

 

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, – Gal 4:4 [emphasis added]

 

Notice that, as I’ve said, Paul is making these historical references to Jesus in the process of making some other point. Neither is Paul introducing new data to the recipients of his letters. Jesus’ birth – and all the historical references to Him that follow in this catalog – are things that the recipients already know and accept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6 – References to His Name

 

When say I “name” in this context, I am referring to His first name, His personal name: that is, “Jesus.” This is the name He was given at birth by His parents – the same time and in the same manner that all human beings are given their names. You may say, “But didn’t an angel tell the parents to give Him this name?” Yes, but it was still the parents who named the child as far as society was concerned.

 

Further to the point, by “name” I am not referring to His titles – such as, “Lord,” “Christ,” “Son of God,” and so on. I am focused on the name He was given at birth, and that He carried throughout His life, and beyond, because it is clearly an aspect of His humanity. Every human being coming into this world is given a name – a personal name, or first name. “Jesus” is the name He was given at birth. The titles all came later, and were all earned.

 

The name “Jesus” was common in first-century Palestine. Therefore, this name would not have marked Him as unique (as it would today if an American child were given the first name of “Jesus”), but rather as just another Jewish boy. Therefore, every reference to the name “Jesus” in the seven epistles we are studying is a reference to His humanity, the historical reality of His life – including the fact that He was born.

 

The name “Jesus” appears 143 times in these seven letters. That averages to almost two and half times per chapter. In most cases, it appears in conjunction with one of His titles. That is, we read “Lord Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” or some other combination like this. Of course, I am not going to list them all for you here because it would just take up space unnecessarily.

 

The name He was given at birth was still the name He would be carrying in heavenly glory. That continuity is a noteworthy aspect of the way these seven letters – and, of course, the New Testament as a whole – spoke of Him. In these writings, there is never any uncertainty, confusion, or contradiction about that identity. Every reference to the name “Jesus” is a reference to His first-century birth in Palestine, His naming by His parents, and therefore the historical reality of His life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7 – References to His Gender

 

“Jesus” was a male’s name.

 

Jesus was a boy – not a girl.

 

All the pronouns referring to Jesus are masculine.

 

It seems silly and superfluous to say it, but there was absolute certainty among the churches that Jesus was male. And this is consistent with the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament (such as Isaiah 9:6).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8 – Reference to His Mother

 

In this fleeting reference to His birth, we find an even more fleeting reference to His mother.

 

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, – Gal 4:4 [emphasis added]

 

This single reference in the seven letters to Jesus’ mother proves nothing for or against the virgin birth, but it does indicate that the thinking of these Jesus followers was not dominated by an allegiance to whichever would-be Messiah had the most exotic claims as to origin. Jesus’ entry into the world was, in the references we’ve seen, quite similar to ours:

 

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “I’m going to have a baby!”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “It’s a boy!”

*
p<>{color:#000;}. “We’re going to call Him ‘Jesus’.”

 

These rites of passage are common to us all. Paul’s references to them do not smack of legend or myth. The virgin birth aspect is not even mentioned in the undisputed Paulines. Historical references to Jesus are respectful, but unadorned and unembellished. We’ll discover their general attitude toward miracles when we get to the chapter on “References to His Ministry.” We can say now, however, that the miracle that mattered most to Paul and his congregations was Jesus having been raised from the dead. What made His resurrection matter so much was that His experience of life was otherwise exactly like ours. Thus it stimulated hope for an ultimate life after death for human beings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9 – References to His Brothers

 

Here are two brief references to the brothers of Jesus.

 

Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? – 1 Cor 9:5 [emphasis added]

 

But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.

- Gal 1:19 [emphasis added]

 

That Jesus came from a family meant there were even more ways the reality of His life could be known. Believers in Corinth obviously knew, or knew of, the brothers of whom Paul spoke. Otherwise, Paul’s reference would have been a surprise to them. Obviously, Paul does not expect them to say, “What – you mean the Lord had brothers?!”

 

In his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul is obviously distinguishing James the brother of Jesus from the equally well-known brother of John. Again, Paul writes expecting his readers to know that Jesus had brothers.

 

If you know a man, that’s one thing. But if you also know his family, your knowledge of the man is richer and more certain. Paul and the churches were certain of their knowledge of Jesus because they had so many touch points.

 

Consider also that Paul and the churches were contemporaries of Jesus and His family. Though not dwelling in the same region, they lived in the same times, under the political control (Rome), and thus shared many cultural experiences. They did not have the same anxieties about the historicity of Jesus that we do, so they spoke of it with more ease.

 

We are accumulating these many little ways Paul and the others spoke of Jesus’ history the same way you might speak of one of your neighbor’s history – in an offhand manner. You don’t feel that you have to prove that the neighbor exists – you just talk about him in a natural way. Centuries from now, historians would be able to tell that you thought your neighbor existed by the offhand way you talked about him. On the contrary, if in your writing you were constantly trying to prove to others that you neighbor was a real person it would indicate that there was some sort of doubt. We see no such signs of doubt among Paul, his co-workers, and the believers to whom they wrote about the fact that Jesus had lived on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10 – References to His Ancestors

 

Paul and the congregations to whom he wrote were quite certain of Jesus’ family lineage. He could not have qualified as Messiah otherwise. In that regard, here are some specific ways in which they spoke of His ancestry.

 

 

Jesus Was a Descendant of Abraham

 

This passage is a bit long, but focus on Abraham and his “seed” – the “seed” being Abraham’s descendant. This descendent is Messiah (Christ). Paul and all the congregations consider Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, they consider Him the “seed” in this passage. And because they see this, they also see themselves – whether Gentile or Jew – as connected to the promise of God to Abraham through their connection to Jesus. The point for us is simply that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham. He had to be if He was to be considered the Messiah.

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made…And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. – Gal 3:13-19, 29 [emphasis added; the Old Testament quote is from Deuteronomy 21:23]

 

Again, don’t get wrapped up in the point Paul is trying to make to the Galatians. Rather, just notice that in seeking to make the point, Paul is relying on their appreciation of the fact that Jesus is the Messiah and thus the “seed” of Abraham. This is yet one more factoid in the catalog we are are assembling that roots Jesus firmly in history.

 

 

Jesus Was a Descendant of Jacob, an Israelite, a Jew

 

Paul and the churches understood Jesus to be a descendant not just of Abraham, but of Abraham’s son Isaac, and grandson Jacob, too. Consider this reference:

 

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. – Rom 9:3-5 [emphasis added]

 

By Paul’s constantly referring to Jesus as the Christ (that is, the Messiah), it’s clear that Jesus was regarded as an Israelite and therefore a descendant of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.

 

Because Jesus was an Israelite, born after Moses, He was subject to the Law of Moses. Gentiles were not subject to this law.

 

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, – Gal 4:4 [emphasis added]

 

It’s clear that no one regarded Jesus as a Gentile, for Gentiles were not “born under the Law.” Jesus was a Jew.

 

Although technically speaking an “Israelite” was a descendant of Jacob (to whom God had given the additional name “Israel”), and technically speaking a “Jew” was a descendant of Judah (catch the similarity of the names), the terms “Israelite” and “Jew” came to be used interchangeably by New Testament times.

 

For these reasons, we can recognize that among Paul and the churches it was an unquestioned fact that Jesus was a descendant of Jacob and therefore an Israelite, a Jew. It seems superfluous to say these things, but it’s because we’ve disregarded them that the historicity of Jesus has become questionable in our age.

 

Jesus Was a Descendant of Jesse

 

Jesse was the father of David, and far more known for being so than for anything else he ever did. Therefore, a quotation from the Old Testament like this one would evoke thoughts of David – and, of course, Messiah. Jesus is the one who arose – a reference to His resurrection from the dead – to rule over the Gentiles.

 

Again Isaiah says,

THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE,

AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES,

IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” – Rom 15:12 [emphasis added; the Old Testament quote is from Isaiah 11:10 in the Septuagint]

 

It’s the consciousness of Jesus having risen from the dead in the minds of Paul and the churches that would cause them to read this verse in the Old Testament and think of Jesus – reminding them of His lineage from Jesse…because of His lineage to David.

 

 

Jesus Was a Descendant of David

 

Since David was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and Jesse, for that matter – and Jesus was a descendant of David, then Jesus was also a descendant of all the above. In other words, if someone is a descendant of David, it is understood that he is also therefore a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesse. It goes without saying.

 

God had made His most specific promises about Messiah to David and so Messiah was known as the son of David even more than He was known as the son of Abraham – though, as we’re stressing – He was clearly son of both, and of all those in between.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, – Rom 1:1-3 [emphasis added]

 

Jesus’ ancestry was thus well known and understood by His early followers. If that ancestry had not been known, He would not have had those followers. This is because His earliest followers were pious Jews who were looking for the Messiah. Without the ancestors listed above, Jesus could never have qualified in their minds to even be considered as the Messiah.

 

Implicit in any claim that Jesus is the Christ is the claim that He descended from all the people we’ve mentioned in this chapter. Therefore, the fact that we have these additional explicit references is yet more incremental confirmation of the early disciples’ convictions about His historicity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11 – References to His Eating and Drinking

 

Jesus ate and drank at the Last Supper. He obviously had been eating and drinking all along, or else He could never have made it out of infancy.

 

You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. – 1 Cor 10:21 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore when you meet together, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper, for in your eating each one takes his own supper first; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses in which to eat and drink? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? In this I will not praise you. For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Cor 11:20-26 [emphasis added; admittedly the reference is sparse, but it’s hard to imagine Jesus fasting ]

 

Yes, this is another historical reference that is a “little” thing. But it’s the ubiquity and variety of such little things throughout the undisputed Paulines that make so clear and uniform the perception the first generation of Christians had of Jesus. This is not the way people speak of legends or myths or fabricated gods.

 

Because Jesus ate and drank all along, He grew from an infant to an adult – which is where we go next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12 – References to His Maturity

 

Jesus became a man. He did not remain an infant. Consider these explicit references to His manhood.

 

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. – Rom 5:15 [emphasis added]

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Phil 2:5-8 [emphasis added]

 

Paul and the churches considered Jesus every bit as much a man as Adam was.

 

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. – 1 Cor 15:21 [emphasis added]

 

We’ll address the following verse when we get to the chapter about Jesus’ heavenly presence after His resurrection, but for now just notice the reference to His being a man.

 

The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.

- 1 Cor 15:47 [emphasis added; the reference to the second man, clear in context, is Jesus]

 

Jesus was crucified, and that, too, required His being a man. The types of crimes for which the Romans would impose crucifixion as the penalty were only those which could be committed by adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13 – References to His Location

 

Although the seven letters of Paul upon which we are focusing don’t explicitly say “Jesus lived in…,” there are clear indications of what we would expect: that receivers and senders alike knew where He had lived.

 

Consider this verse from Paul’s first letter to the believers in Thessalonica. They were relatively new to the faith and even to them Paul did not have to explain what the region of Judea had to do with their newfound faith.

 

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost. – 1 Thess 2:14-16 [emphasis added]

 

Paul did not have to teach them in the letter about the relevance of Judea because it’s clear from what he wrote that he had taught them about it face to face when he had first brought them the faith.

 

From a Roman standpoint, Judea was the name of the region in which Jerusalem was the central city. Judea was an eastern province of the Roman Empire. Someone else might call it southern Israel or southern Palestine or even southern Canaan. It corresponded to the area assigned to the tribe of Judah when Joshua led the Israelites in their quest to take the land of Canaan. To the immediate north lay Samaria, and just north of Samaria was Galilee. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem and grew up in Nazareth which is in Galilee. When He left His earthly father’s house and began His itinerant teaching ministry, He moved His base of operations to the city of Capernaum on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee. However, the controversy surrounding Him and His ministry emanated most strongly from Jerusalem, where the temple priests and religious leaders resided. There He was tried by these Jewish authorities and turned over to the Romans (Pontius Pilate) for crucifixion.

 

Paul and his co-workers would have no reason to teach the finer points of all this geography to their converts. However, the city of Jerusalem, and the region Judea of which it was a part, could not naturally be excised from the story of Messiah being rejected to the point of crucifixion and then raised from the dead. The location of those two events would naturally be part of the account. Thus mention of Jerusalem (the city) or Judea (the surrounding region) would evoke thoughts about the origin of the Christian movement.

 

For this reason, we are not surprised when Paul refers to Jerusalem as the base of operations for the entire Christian mission, as in this passage from his letter to the believers in Galatia:

 

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.

- Gal 1:15-19 [emphasis added]

 

Paul could make a geographical reference like this without having to explain it because the believers in Galatia would already have learned about the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jesus story. That leading voices of the Jesus movement – Cephas (that is, Peter) and James – would be based there would make perfect sense to them.

 

The association of Jesus with Jerusalem and Judea is reinforced in our seven letters by the Aramaic expressions that show up there without explanation. This is significant because the Aramaic language was spoken in Palestine, not throughout the Roman Empire. Thus Paul’s usage of terms like “Maranatha” in 1 Cor 16:22, “Abba” in Gal 4:6, and “Cephas” in eight different places (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:5; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14) when writing to regions far removed from the land where Israel dwelt and Aramaic was spoken. Inhabitants of regions like Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, Italy and so on would have learned their Aramaic words as part of their matriculation into a faith in a man who, and whose original emissaries, spoke Aramaic.

 

You will recall this verse that we have seen several times:

 

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, – Gal 4:4 [emphasis added]

 

I don’t insist that being “under the Law” required Jesus to be a physical resident of the land of Israel. Certainly, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) had considered himself as devoted to the Law of Moses as any of his contemporaries. However, there were aspects of that Law that were more readily addressed by those living “in the land” than by Jews living elsewhere. And certainly in the early part of the first century, many Jews ascribed more faithfulness to the Law to those Jews who lived in the land for which Moses wrote it. Thus the expression ”born of a woman, born under the Law” would likely evoke images of that land for those who knew by other means that this part of the world was where Messiah had been placed by God.

 

Though there is more I could say, I trust you can see by now that there’s no good reason to think that the senders or receivers of our seven letters were ignorant of where a biography of Jesus would locate Him.

 

 

 

Chapter 14 – References to His Occupation

 

This category is about what Jesus did. The category after will be about how He did it.

 

The Gospels tells us that Jesus was called both a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and the son of a carpenter (Matt 13:55) . However, since this activity applies to the time before He began His ministry, and no reference to His carpentry is mentioned in the undisputed Paulines, it falls outside the scope of our study.

 

All of the verses you see below speak to the speaking ministry with which the Lord was occupied, and which led ultimately to His crucifixion. There is nothing in these seven letters that talks about the miracles Jesus performed in conjunction with this ministry. I will leave you to form your own conclusions about what that might mean, except to say that it puts to silence any theory that these Jesus followers were gullible crowds interested only in miracle stories.

 

In these verses, we see that Jesus gave instruction, commanded, directed, laid down the law, gave the word, and so on. In other words, He was a teacher – or, as the Jews would have it, a rabbi. This was His ministry.

 

But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband – 1 Cor 7:10 [emphasis added; Paul is saying that the instructions he was about to give married couples came originally from the Lord]

 

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. – 1 Cor 7:25 [emphasis added; obviously Paul wanted to first think if there had been a command of the Lord on the subject]

 

So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. – 1 Cor 9:14 [emphasis added; Paul is probably referring to Luke 10:7]

 

to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. – 1 Cor 9:21 [emphasis added; as Moses had brought the law so Jesus brought the greater law]

 

If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment. – 1 Cor 14:37 [emphasis added; Paul was not formulating commandments for the Corinthians but rather passing on, or even paraphrasing, the commandments of the Lord]

 

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.

- Gal 6:2 [emphasis added; see note on 1 Cor 9:21 above]

 

For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. – 1 Thess 4:2 [emphasis added]

 

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. – 1 Thess 4:14-17 [emphasis added; Paul is referring to the instruction the Lord had regarding His coming]

 

As with all the other historical references to Jesus we’ve cataloged so far, note the matter-of-factness with which these references are made. These things are understood among the senders and receivers of these letters – that they took place does not have to be justified as true. Whatever justification was required was given before the recipients of the letters became believers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15 – References to His Manner

 

The previous category was about what Jesus did. This category is about how He did it.

 

These references speak to the way that Jesus behaved as a man. It is this manner that made His execution all the more unwarranted.

 

For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. – Rom 5:19 [emphasis added]

 

For even Christ did not please Himself… – Rom 15:3 [emphasis added]

 

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. – 1 Cor 11:1 [emphasis added; this verse does not characterize Jesus’ manner of life explicitly, but does imply that it was worthy of, and capable of, imitation by believers]

 

and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” – 1 Cor 11:24 [emphasis added; though it could go without saying, Jesus was the sort of man who would be thankful to God for his food, and who would be prone to pray that thanks]

 

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.

- 2 Cor 8:9 [note the similarity to Phil 2:5-8 below; note also that this verse offers us an understanding of the word “grace” that we can apply to references to His ministry and His manner]

 

Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! – 2 Cor 10:1 [emphasis added; reminds us of the characterization Jesus gave of Himself in Matthew 11:29]

 

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, – 2 Cor 10:5 [emphasis added]

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Phil 2:5-8 [emphasis added]

 

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1 Thess 1:6-7 [emphasis added; see note on 1 Cor 11:1 above]

 

In every case above, Paul is reminding his readers of things they know about the history of Jesus – not telling them things that they don’t know about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16 – References to His Body (His Flesh and Blood)

 

Any reference to Jesus’ body, His flesh, and/or His blood is included here. Of course, all these expressions are idiomatic for His humanity. Additionally, blood can speak of His sacrificial death. As to the aspect of death, see also the chapter on “References to His Death” below. As to the sacrificial aspect, see also the chapter on “References to His Sacrifice” below.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, – Rom 1:1-4 [emphasis added; “according to the flesh” contrasts with “according to the Spirit…”]

 

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; – Rom 3:5 [emphasis added]

 

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. – Rom 5:9 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. – Rom 7:4 [emphasis added]

 

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, – Rom 8:3 [emphasis added]

 

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. – Rom 9:3-5 [emphasis added]

 

Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? – 1 Cor 10:16 [emphasis added]

 

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. – 1 Cor 11:23-27 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. – 2 Cor 5:16 [emphasis added]

 

As you can see, Jesus’ humanity was thoroughly accepted. Without that humanity, He could never have been historical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17 – References to His Sufferings

 

As you’ve probably noticed, the number of references in each chapter are generally increasing. This is because we are getting to the stage of Jesus’ life that was most prophesied by the prophets and therefore of most interest to Paul and the congregations of believers. The prophets did not speak much about what Jesus would do as a child or as a man before His ministry. What they spoke incessantly about was His sufferings and His glories (1 Peter 1:10-11; alluded to also in Rom 8:16-18 below).

 

Jesus suffered, and the seven letters we are researching speak of that suffering in both explicit and implicit terms. Certainly His death by crucifixion was the most dramatic of His sufferings, but we have separate categories for both “death” and “crucifixion” below. Therefore, this category will be limited to those verses that don’t fit in either of those more specific descriptions of suffering.

 

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. – Rom 8:16-18 [emphasis added]

 

For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.”

- Rom 15:3 [emphasis added; this Old Testament quote is of Psalm 69:9 and, of course, implies suffering]

 

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; – 1 Cor 11:23 [emphasis added; betrayal is certainly a form of suffering]

 

For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. – 2 Cor 1:5 [emphasis added]

 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; – Phil 3:10 [emphasis added]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18 – References to His Crucifixion

 

Clearly, the crucifixion of Christ was very much on the minds of Paul and the congregations He served. It was the signature image of His sufferings. The cross upon which Jesus gave His life was thus seared into their collective consciousness. Paul never had to explain to anyone what He was talking about. All he had to do was say the word.

 

knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;

- Rom 6:6 [emphasis added; our crucifixion is vicarious while His was physical]

 

Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? – 1 Cor 1:13 [emphasis added; an allusion to the fact that only Jesus was crucified for us]

 

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. – 1 Cor 1:17-18 [emphasis added]

 

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, – 1 Cor 1:21-23 [emphasis added]

 

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. – 1 Cor 2:2 [emphasis added]

 

the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; – 1 Cor 2:8

 

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. – 2 Cor 13:4 [emphasis added]

 

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Gal 2:20 [emphasis added; see note on Rom 6:6 above]

 

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? – Gal 3:1 [emphasis added]

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE "-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. - Gal 3:13-14 [emphasis added; the Old Testament quote is from Deuteronomy 21:23 and “hangs on a tree” in their minds is “dying on a cross”]

 

Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. – Gal 5:24 [emphasis added; see note on Rom 6:6 above]

 

Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

- Gal 6:12-14 [emphasis added]

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Phil 2:5-8 [emphasis added]

 

For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, – Phil 3:18

 

When anyone questions the historicity of Jesus they have lost sight the most well-known and well-chronicled event in all ancient history. Not just all ancient religious history – all ancient history. Name the ancient event that exceeds its notoriety. Even the ancients who denied His resurrection did not attempt to deny His crucifixion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19 – Reference to His Being Killed

 

I would not have created a category just for this verse except that 1) there were so many verses referencing His death that it seemed helpful to segregate them into separate sections – “crucifixion, being killed, death, and sacrifice,” and 2) this verse was verbally distinctive enough that I thought it should be set out. You may recall it from our chapter on Jesus’ location.

 

For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, – 1 Thess 2:14-15 [emphasis added]

 

Even so, we didn’t need anyone to tell us that crucifixion was a form of killing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 20 – References to His Death

 

Sometimes Paul speaks of Jesus’ death using the language of sacrifice. This gets to the meaning of His death. Because there are so many verses relating to Jesus’ death, I have separated them into crucifixion, being killed, death, sacrifice, and burial. Here are the ones that explicitly use the words “death,” “die,” “died,” “dying.”

 

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. – Rom 5:6 [emphasis added]

 

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Rom 5:8 [emphasis added]

 

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

- Rom 5:10 [emphasis added]

 

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, – Rom 6:3-5 [emphasis added]

 

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. – Rom 6:8-10 [emphasis added]

 

who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. – Rom 8:34 [emphasis added]

 

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Rom 14:9 [emphasis added]

 

For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. – Rom 14:15 [emphasis added]

 

For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. – 1 Cor 8:11 [emphasis added]

 

and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Cor 11:24-26 [emphasis added]

 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, – 1 Cor 15:3 [emphasis added]

 

always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus , so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. -2 Cor 4:10-12 [emphasis added]

 

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

- 2 Cor 5:14-15 [emphasis added]

 

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” – Gal 2:21 [emphasis added]

 

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Phil 2:5-8 [emphasis added]

 

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; – Phil 3:10 [emphasis added]

 

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. – 1 Thess 4:14-17 [emphasis added]

 

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. – 1 Thess 5:9-10 [emphasis added]

 

No one can die except those who have lived. Therefore, every reference to Jesus’ death is a reference to the life He lived. There is no lack of evidence for the historicity of Jesus – there is only a dullness to the evidence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21 – References to His Sacrifice

 

Sometimes Paul speaks of Jesus’ death using the vocabulary of sacrifice – because Paul and his congregations knew that the death was, in fact, a sacrifice. Therefore, these verses which reference sacrifice are, in essence, referencing death. In fact, I could have included all these references in the preceding chapter, but there were already so many and these phrasings seemed distinctive enough to set apart. By dying, Jesus was sacrificing Himself to God on our behalf.

 

whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; – Rom 3:25 [emphasis added]

 

but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. – Rom 4:24-25 [emphasis added]

 

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. – Rom 5:18 [emphasis added]

 

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, – Rom 8:3 [emphasis added]

 

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? – Rom 8:32 [emphasis added]

 

Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. – 1 Cor 5:7 [emphasis added]

 

Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. – 2 Cor 5:18-19 [emphasis added]

 

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. – 2 Cor 5:21 [emphasis added; more precisely, He was made to be a sin offering on our behalf]

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, – Gal 1:3-4 [emphasis added]

 

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Gal 2:20 [emphasis added]

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us --for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. - Gal 3:13-14 [emphasis added]

 

These verses are examples of Paul and his co-authors taking a historical event that the churches knew about (the death of Jesus by crucifixion) and invoking or amplifying its meaning for them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22 – References to His Burial

 

Any reference to Jesus’ burial can be considered a coda to His death – an exclamation point. Thus it is a way of emphasizing death – a fate common to all of us who are human. Jesus shared that fate because He fully shared our human experience. (It’s what would happen three days later that made Him so different.)

 

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

- Rom 6:4 [emphasis added; our burial is vicarious but His was actual]

 

and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, – 1 Cor 15:4 [emphasis added]

 

His blood, sufferings, crucifixion, being killed, death, sacrifice, and burial are all references to the cessation of His life. Let us now take a pause in our cataloging and consider what we might have learned so far from all these historical references to Jesus in the uncontested letters of Paul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23 – Review of the References to Jesus on Earth

 

What is the picture we could draw of Jesus if all we had to go on was the historical references we’ve seen so far in the seven epistles we’re studying?

 

We’d know He was a Jew named Jesus, born in the first half of the first century. We’d know that He was a descendant of David, king of Israel – and, by virtue of that fact, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as well. We’d know that He lived in the eastern reaches of the Roman Empire, in or around a region called Judea. We’d know that he was a controversial rabbi – considered godly by some and worthy of death by others. We’d know that He was rejected by His countrymen and crucified by the Romans.

 

As a result of our historical research so far, a concise encyclopedia entry for Him might look like this:

 

Jesus – a Jew, descendant of King David, born early first century C.E. and dwelling in Palestine. Regarded as a preacher and practitioner of righteousness by his Jewish followers, he was eventually betrayed and handed over to the Roman authorities, who crucified him.

 

I don’t know about you, but before I embarked on this study of the undisputed Philistines for the first time, I did not know that it would yield so clear a portrait of Jesus’ life. Yes, it has yielded us just the highlights or the milestones – but that alone is significant.

 

It’s also significant that there is no variation on any of these points within the seven letters. Over and over and over, these are the very points that are made whenever a historical detail about Jesus is given – especially when it comes to the way His life ended. You have seen it yourself in the catalog we have assembled. There is no doubt in the minds of Paul and the churches that Jesus died, that He died by hostile hands, and that the means of His death was crucifixion.

 

This short bio we have from Paul’s letters also serves as a historical framework upon which a researcher may add other details of Jesus’ life as he learns them. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that this is just the way Paul’s disciples learned about Jesus: start with a historical framework of the main points, and then fill in the gaps with each detail subsequently acquired.

 

Yet one more significant point should be made, and it is that every element in this biographical sketch is confirmed by the rest of the New Testament. Whether it be the four Gospels, the book of Acts, or the other 15 epistles – every historical point about Jesus matches those found in these seven epistles.

 

To sum up, the seven uncontested letters of Paul have already told us a lot about the historical Jesus. The question for us now is “Where do we go from here?”

 

 

Chapter 24 – The Pivot

 

For some people, the search for historical information about the life of Jesus comes to an end with His burial. Such people maintain that historians cannot speak to the resurrection because it is a spiritual matter and therefore outside the purview of history. This, however, seems to be a notion born from some motive other than common sense.

 

If people from the past can tell us whether or not someone lived, and they can tell us about when and how someone died, then why can’t we let them tell us whether or not someone lived again? Would their means of knowing if someone is living vary depending on whether the living is occurring before the death or after the death? Do we think ancient people were too dumb to know the difference between a living person and a dead one?

 

The people who knew Jesus before He died were the people best able to identify Him after He died. Granted, resurrection is not a common experience. However, it’s the very thing that makes claims about Jesus so unique…and so worthy of examination.

 

The people who wrote and received the seven letters we are studying would not agree that historical inquiry should end with Jesus’ death. On the contrary, they see His resurrection from death as the linchpin of His entire biography- yes, the end, but also the beginning. Only if Jesus had died could He have been raised from the dead.

 

Every reference to Jesus’ resurrection is an implicit reference to His death. And the expression “raised from the dead,” which we find often in the letters we are studying, is actually an explicit reference to His having been dead! Therefore, if we’re trying to make an artificial and arbitrary distinction between the history of Jesus before He died and what happened after He died, then, yes, we can stop our historical inquiry here. However, if we’re interested in understanding what Paul and the churches thought about the historical facts of Jesus’s life, we have to continue listening to what they are saying about Him. They drew no such artificial and arbitrary line at His death. And, remember, until we get to the last chapter, it is their account of things we are trying to identify and understand. In the last chapter, you get to decide if you think they knew what they were talking about or not. Until then, we’ll keep studying what they were talking about.

 

Therefore, we must acknowledge that in the minds of the people whose correspondence we are studying, the resurrection of Jesus is every bit as historical as His crucifixion because it’s the very same people reporting the two events! It would be inconsistent and indefensible for them to say otherwise.

 

Therefore also, if Jesus is not raised from the dead then He’s not the historical Jesus as presented and received in the undisputed Paulines. The senders and receivers of those seven letters saw Jesus’ post-death biography as a seamless extension of His pre-death biography. Let us therefore press on in our study of what they thought. Let us watch Him through their eyes – watch Him pivot at death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25 – References to His Resurrection

 

Every reference to Jesus as the “Son of God” implies His resurrection from the dead. See note on Rom 1:1-4 below. Moreover, every reference to Jesus’ ascension or to His heavenly presence or heavenly activities or His coming in judgment and glory implies His resurrection. Such references will appear in the chapters that follow this one; I have not, generally speaking, duplicated them here. If a verse speaks of Jesus being alive after death, I include it in this chapter. If it speaks of His being in heaven or doing something from heaven or coming in glory – something more specific than just being alive – I include it in one of those chapters.

 

There are close to 50 occurrences of these simple, explicit references to Jesus having been raised from the dead in the close to 30 verses or passages listed below. It stands to reason that this event would be referred to so often by Paul and his co-authors. After all, it is the driving force of their movement – it is what draws them together. If Jesus had not been raised – or, to be more precise about it, if they did not believe Jesus had been raised – then none of these epistles would have been written in the first place.

 

Let us take due note, therefore, that belief in Jesus’ resurrection was clear and certain throughout the letters. Moreover, you will see Paul nowhere in these quotations informing his readers that Jesus had been raised from the dead (as if they’d never heard this before), or exhorting them to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead (as if they’d heard about it but never believed it). Rather, Paul is constantly reminding his readers of their common belief in Jesus’ resurrection, explaining its implications, or drawing them back to its importance.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, – Rom 1:1-4 [emphasis added; Paul is saying that Jesus’ resurrection was God’s declaration of Jesus’ status as God’s Son, a fulfillment of Psalm 2:7, marking His “birth” from death (“begotten”)]

 

but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. – Rom 4:24-25 [emphasis added]

 

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

- Rom 5:10 [emphasis added; that His life is juxtaposed with, and placed after, reference to His death speaks of His resurrection from death]

 

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, – Rom 6:4-5 [emphasis added]

 

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. – Rom 6:8-10 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. – Rom 7:4 [emphasis added]

 

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. – Rom 8:11 [emphasis added]

 

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;

- Rom 8:29 [emphasis added]

 

who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. – Rom 8:34 [emphasis added]

 

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; – Rom 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Rom 14:9 [emphasis added]

 

Again Isaiah says,

THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE,

AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES,

IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” – Rom 15:12 [emphasis added; the Old Testament quote is from Isaiah 11:10 in the Septuagint]

 

God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Cor 1:9 [emphasis added; “His Son” implies the resurrection, especially when you consider that communication with the dead was forbidden by Moses]

 

Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. – 1 Cor 6:14 [emphasis added]

 

and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, – 1 Cor 15:4 [emphasis added]

 

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, – 1 Cor 15:12-23 [emphasis added]

 

So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. – 1 Cor 15:45-49 [emphasis added; Jesus can neither give life nor be in heaven if He is not raised from the dead]

 

indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; – 2 Cor 1:9 [emphasis added; before Jesus was raised from the dead Paul could have said “God who is able to raise the dead” or “God who can raise the dead” or even “God will raise the dead” but not “God raises the dead” and thus Paul evokes the resurrection of Jesus with this phrasing]

 

always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death works in us, but life in you. – 2 Cor 4:10-12 [emphasis added; that His life is juxtaposed with, and placed after, reference to His death speaks of His resurrection from death]

 

knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. – 2 Cor 4:14 [emphasis added]

 

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.

- 2 Cor 5:14-15 [emphasis added]

 

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. – 2 Cor 13:4 [emphasis added]

 

Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), – Gal 1:1 [emphasis added]

 

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. – Gal 2:20 [emphasis added]

 

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Phil 2:8-11 [emphasis added; the phrase “highly exalted Him” implies more than resurrection, but it does imply resurrection, especially given that it follows reference to Jesus’ death]

 

For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thess 1:9-10 [emphasis added]

 

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. – 1 Thess 4:14 [emphasis added]

 

Regarding a point I was making in the chapter on “The Pivot,” did you notice that Paul and his co-authors talk about Jesus’ resurrection the same way they talk about His death? They would not understand if we were to say to them: “We can accept your testimony that He lived and we can accept your testimony but we cannot accept your testimony that He lived again.” We should not expect them to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 26 – References to His Post-Resurrection, Pre-Ascension Appearances

 

 

According to the book of Acts, there was a period of forty days between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and His ascension into heaven. During this interlude, He demonstrated the reality of His life after death to various of His disciples (Act 1:1-3). That reference to this forty-day period gives us a chronological context for the following verse from the undisputed Paulines:

 

and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

- 1 Cor 15:5-7 [emphasis added]

 

As for the appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus, since it occurred after His ascension I have included it in the chapter on Jesus’ heavenly activities, which you’ll find below in due time.

 

By the way, be aware that I am not departing from our sole reliance on the undisputed Paulines when I invoke the passage from Acts. I am only using it to help frame the 1 Cor 15:5-7 passage. This passage stands on its own as far as the historical point it makes about Jesus’ resurrection appearances regardless of whatever precise location we give it in the catalog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 27 – Selected References to His Ascension into Heaven

 

(In the categories so far, I have, for the most part, sought to be exhaustive in the verses I have brought to the catalog. That is, I sought to include each and every verse that referred to that specific subject. By contrast, I will be selective with verses in the categories from this point onward. There are so many references to Jesus in heaven, and so much variety in the way His heavenly presence and activities are described, that it would be distracting to our purpose to try to catalog them all. Samplings, therefore, are sufficient to our purpose. If this is not apparent to you now, I think it will become so as you continue reading.)

 

Just as occurrences of “Son of God” inherently allude to Jesus’ resurrection, so occurrences of “Jesus” in conjunction with “Lord” inherently allude to His resurrection from the dead and ascension to the heights of creation. (This is seen most commonly in the prophecy of Psalm 110:1 – the most commonly quoted Old Testament verse found in the New Testament.) Therefore, the confession that “Jesus is Lord” is a tacit acknowledgment that Jesus’ resurrection involved ascension to heaven – that the forty days of appearances on earth was just a brief stopover on His trip from the depths of creation (Sheol) to its heights. There is no more authority, power, or honor He could be given than to be “seated at the right hand of God” (more on this phrase in the list below).

 

This passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi paints a vivid picture of Jesus exaltation to heaven – especially when you consider His previous positioning (“death on a cross”):

 

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Phil 2:8-11 [emphasis added; this verse speaks not just to the resurrection but to Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God as Lord prophesied in Psalm 110:1, and the all caps is taken from Isaiah 45:23]

 

Reinforcing what he wrote the Philippians about Jesus’ ascent to heaven, Paul reinforces those words with these. One could hardly be “Lord” from any place other that the height of heaven.

 

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” – Rom 10:9-13 [emphasis added; the first Old Testament quote is from Isaiah 28:16, and the second is from Joel 2:32 emphasizing that the name of the Lord is now “Jesus”]

 

Here are some other examples of how our seven letters speak to Jesus’ ascension into heaven as Lord of all:

 

For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. – Rom 14:9 [emphasis added]

 

Again Isaiah says,

THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE,

AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES,

IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” – Rom 15:12 [emphasis added; the Old Testament quote is from Isaiah 11:10 in the Septuagint]

 

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. – 1 Cor 12:3 [emphasis added]

 

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. – 2 Cor 4:5 [emphasis added]

 

and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Phil 2:11 [emphasis added]

 

When Paul says that Jesus is “at the right hand of God,” he is alluding to Psalm 110:1 which was the prophecy that God would seat the Son of David at His right hand. In the Hebrew vernacular, no phrase said “heaven” quite so emphatically as “the right hand of God.”

 

who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. – Rom 8:34 [emphasis added]

 

It’s possible that the following verse refers to Jesus’ ascension into heaven as described in Acts 1:1-11.

 

1 Cor 15:6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; – 1 Cor 15:6

 

Whether it does or doesn’t, it was clear to the senders and receivers of our seven letters that Jesus’ resurrection was intended not to bring Him back to earth – that was only for the purpose of letting His new life be examined and confirmed by trustworthy earthly witnesses who would share the news with others – but rather His resurrection was intended to take Him to heaven, and to the most exalted place that heaven had.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 28 – Selected References to His Presence in Heaven

 

Every reference to Jesus’ presence in heaven implies His resurrection and ascension because prior to His resurrection the dead always went below to Sheol (Hades). This was the dramatic change in the implications of death that so excited and unified the congregations that Paul served. There was no such thing as a dead person in heaven; the dead were below. If Jesus was above, it was one more reason for believing that He was no longer dead.

 

During His earthly life, Jesus had lived as we do – as flesh and blood. And He could be known accordingly. Being in heaven, however, meant He could no longer be known in that way. Therefore, Paul wrote,

 

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. – 2 Cor 5:16 [emphasis added]

 

Instead of knowing Jesus according to the flesh, His presence in heaven meant He must be known in the spirit – that is, as someone unseen.

 

So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. – 1 Cor 15:45 [emphasis added]

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. – 2 Cor 3:17-18 [emphasis added]

 

Paul and his congregations saw Jesus as residing in heaven ever since His ascension, and remaining there until His coming in judgment and glory.

 

The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. – 1 Cor 15:47-49 [emphasis added; the “first man” refers to Adam and the “second man” refers to Jesus and His presence in heaven]

 

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Phil 3:20-21 [emphasis added]

 

For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thess 1:9-10 [emphasis added]

 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

- 1 Thess 4:13-18 [emphasis added]

 

As I mentioned earlier, the most commonly-quoted Old Testament verse found in the New Testament is Psalm 110:1. In the undisputed Paulines it shows up more as,

 

…Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God… – Rom 8:34

 

The right hand of God is where He would stay until His “coming in glory.” But just because Jesus was seated there did not mean He was inactive. Let us take a look at some of the activities ascribed to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 29 – Selected References to His Heavenly Activities

 

During the time between Jesus’ ascension forty days after His resurrection and His coming in judgment and glory, Paul and the churches to whom he wrote did not at all perceive the Lord to be inactive. On the contrary, they portray His activities in both general and specific terms.

 

Rather than simply listing the verses in scriptural order as I have been doing in the preceding chapters, I am going to arrange these in a more logical flow and give each passage some context. First, let’s see how Jesus calls and works through His apostles in particular. Then, let’s see how He calls and works through His people in general.

 

Keep in mind that we are describing these things according to the view of the senders and receivers of our seven letters. You don’t have to decide whether they were right to do so or not until we get to the last chapter.

 

 

From Heaven, the Lord Jesus Calls and Directs His Apostles

 

The Lord appeared to Paul from heaven on the Damascus Road and called him to be an apostle.

 

and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. – 1 Cor 15:8-9

 

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. – 1 Cor 9:1-2

 

Paul also had other experiences with the heavenly Jesus. He describes some of them here:

 

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

- 2 Cor 12:1-10

 

The result of all Paul’s interactions was that the Lord worked through his ministry:

 

Rom 15:18 For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. – Rom 15:18-19 [emphasis added]

 

The way Jesus worked from heaven through Paul is the way He worked through all the apostles. Using Peter as an example, Paul writes,

 

But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), – Gal 2:7-8 [emphasis added]

 

No matter who was doing the work of ministry, it was the Lord from heaven who was working through all of them.

 

What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. – 1 Cor 3:5 [emphasis added]

 

From heaven, the Lord was directing their activities.

 

For I do not wish to see you now just in passing; for I hope to remain with you for some time, if the Lord permits. – 1 Cor 16:7 [emphasis added]

 

Thus the Lord in heaven worked through His apostles on earth.

 

 

From Heaven, the Lord Jesus Calls and Works Through His People

 

From His place in heaven, Jesus could reach far more people than He could when He walked in the flesh. For example, on earth He ministered in Galilee, Samaria, and Judea – but from heaven He could just as easily interact with people as far away as Corinth.

 

God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – 1 Cor 1:9 [emphasis added]

 

The Lord bestows the riches of His grace on those who call upon His name (which is how you reach Him in heaven when you’re on earth):

 

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; – Rom 10:12 [emphasis added]

 

The Lord intercedes for His people:

 

who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. – Rom 8:34 [emphasis added]

 

The Lord watches everything we do…that we might have the opportunity to please Him with our devotion and our deeds.

 

But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

- 1 Cor 7:32-35 [emphasis added]

 

On the other hand, when we don’t please Him He disciplines us.

 

But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. – 1 Cor 11:32 [emphasis added]

 

Paul and all the believers see themselves, however geographically dispersed, as a body belonging to Christ:

 

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. – Rom 12:4-5

 

Paul warned the churches in Galatia not to become separated from Christ. A body cannot afford to be separated from its head, and although Paul does not use that precise language here,

 

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. – Gal 5:1-4

 

In this passage, Paul’s gives an extended description of how apostles and believers alike are part of a single body

 

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. – 1 Cor 12:12-31

 

Clearly, Paul and the churches do not see Jesus as being passive in heaven. He seemed as active to them there as He had been on earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 30 – Selected References to His Coming in Heavenly Glory

 

Paul and his congregations looked forward to the great and glorious day of the Lord that was coming. All the references below imply the Lord’s resurrection from the dead, His ascension in to heaven, and His ongoing presence there – for only if all these things had occurred would He be in a position to come from there in judgment and glory.

 

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Rom 2:14-16 [emphasis added]

 

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. – Rom 5:9-10 [emphasis added]

 

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. – Rom 8:16-17

 

so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor 1:7-8 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. – 1 Cor 4:5 [emphasis added]

 

In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 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 Cor 5:4-5 [emphasis added]

 

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. – 1 Cor 11:26 [emphasis added]

 

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all. – 1 Cor 15:22-28 [emphasis added]

 

If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.

- 1 Cor 16:22 [emphasis added; “Maranatha” is an Aramaic expression meaning “O Lord Come!” or “O our Lord come!”]

 

For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end; just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Cor 1:13-14 [emphasis added]

 

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. – Phil 3:20-21 [emphasis added]

 

For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come. – 1 Thess 1:9-10 [emphasis added]

 

For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.

- 1 Thess 2:19-20 [emphasis added]

 

Now may our God and Father Himself and Jesus our Lord direct our way to you; and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. – 1 Thess 3:11-13 [emphasis added]

 

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

- 1 Thess 4:13-18 [emphasis added]

 

Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. – 1 Thess 5:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass. – 1 Thess 5:23-24 [emphasis added]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 31 – Review of the Selected References to Jesus in Heaven

 

I don’t want you to be bogged down in the detail of the chapters I have given you on Jesus in heaven. So let’s step back from the trees and take a look at the forest.

 

First, remember that I’ve brought into the catalog only a sampling of the verses speaking of Jesus in heaven. Nor have I tried to be as specific in describing Jesus in heaven as we described Jesus on earth. The reason for this is simple: Jesus in heaven could not be physically observed as He had been on earth. Paul and the believers looked to the Scriptures for their understanding of how Jesus worked in heaven. That’s how they interpreted what was happening to them. There was not, however, a physical body of Jesus for them to observe…so descriptions of Jesus’ activities would obviously a different shape.

 

All that said, Paul and the churches were absolutely of one mind that Jesus went to heaven after His resurrection. You must take a moment to appreciate how significant this was – in the ancient mind and particularly in the Hebrew mind.

 

The Hebrew conception of death was that it took you below to a place called Sheol (Hades in Greek). From there, you were never heard from again. You “slept.” And, according to the Law of Moses, the living were forbidden from seeking contact with you. For Jesus to be in heaven meant not just that He was alive and no longer dead, but that God had plan for life beyond death.

 

For the purpose of this book, we don’t need to get into all the aspects of that plan. We do, however, want to be sure to notice that every affirmation in these seven letters that Jesus was in heaven above – every one of them – was a further affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

 

Only if Jesus had been raised from the dead could He ascend into heaven.

 

Only if Jesus had been raised from the dead could He reside in heaven.

 

Only if Jesus had been raised from the dead could He have been active in heaven.

 

Only if Jesus had been raised from the dead could He have come in glory from heaven.

 

As far as the senders and receivers of these seven letters were concerned, He who was the heavenly Jesus was He who had been the earthly Jesus. The linkage between the two was His resurrection from the dead.

 

The reason we needed only selected references to Jesus in heaven (as opposed to the exhaustive references we sought for references to Jesus on earth), and the reason we don’t need to have a crystal-clear perception of everything the early church saw Jesus doing from heaven, is that for our purposes the most important thing to understand about the early church’s view is that whatever they saw Jesus doing after His crucifixion by Roman soldiers they saw Him doing in heaven – not on earth, not in Sheol. He had been raised.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 32 – Review of the References to Jesus on Earth and in Heaven

 

When we reviewed the references to Jesus’ earthly life in the undisputed Paulines, we constructed a brief encyclopedia entry, as it were, for Him. Let us now fill out that biographical sketch by adding what we’ve learned from the references to Jesus in heaven.

 

Jesus – a Jew, descendant of King David, born early first century C.E. and dwelling in Palestine. Regarded as a preacher and practitioner of righteousness by his Jewish followers, he was eventually betrayed and handed over to the Roman authorities, who crucified him. On the third day, He was raised from the dead, appeared multiple times to His disciples over a forty-day period, then ascending to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, from which He would eventually come in glory on the day of the Lord.

 

Now, I know that some of you are protesting, “But, Mike, that no longer looks like a normal encyclopedia entry!” I agree. However, our purpose is to uncover history – not reject it when it doesn’t fit our preconceived norms.

 

Remember that our purpose is to understand what these seven written communications between first-century believers say. Only when we’ve come to that understanding will we be in a position to decide whether they should have said it.

 

The encyclopedia entry above is just the way Paul, his co-workers, and the churches would have written it. They would see a seamless history of Jesus that led from birth to death to resurrection and beyond. Yes, His resurrection was the pivot. It was what made His life profoundly and dramatic different from every other human life ever lived. But the resurrection did not refute His humanity. It did not undo His humanity. It just extended it. And because of His uniqueness, it brought Him unique glories.

 

The point in all that we have seen so far is that the uncontested letters of Paul reveal that he and his co-workers had preached a message about a historical Jesus who had fulfilled the ancient Scriptures of the Jewish people. The historical aspect of that message had an essential core: the death and resurrection of Jesus. To that core, historical details could be added (such as we see throughout the New Testament and especially in the Gospels) – but whatever was added never change the foundational core of death and resurrection.

 

Jesus’ birth, for example, is a historical detail added to the core. His appearance to Paul from heaven was likewise a historical detail added to the core. Over the course of this book, we’ve seen enough historical details to construct an encyclopedia entry for Jesus that Paul and his churches might have written – only they obviously had a grasp on more historical details about Jesus than what made it into these letters. The letters just show people making frequent passing references to a body of knowledge they held in common.

 

We can always keep combing the undisputed Paulines and the rest of the New Testament for details about Jesus that we might have missed, but we will never recapture all that the early believers knew. The good news, however, is that we don’t have to! We have the historical core – death and resurrection – and we have a significant number of details surrounding it.

 

The many people involved in the initial exchange of the undisputed Paulines held to a common view that was based on recent history and ancient Scripture. That recent history had to do with a man named Jesus and was, for the most part, oral. People like Peter, James, and Paul were testifying to their personal experiences with the man, and how Scripture had prophesied what they had witnessed, and some people believed them.

 

That Jesus was crucified and raised constituted undeniable – and critically important – history in the minds of all those who wrote and received the seven letters we’re studying. You can deny that these people knew what they were talking about, but if you’ve read this far, you can’t deny that you know what they were talking about.

 

Nevertheless, these first-century believers have even more to tell us about the subject at hand through these seven writings they left behind. So let us continue listening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 33 – Revisiting the Corinthian Digest: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

We want to revisit 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 because it is such a rich encapsulation of what is important to us in this book. For ease of referring to it, let’s call it “the Corinthian digest” because it expresses the history that Jesus made – and why it’s important – in such a pithy form. And this pithiness does not come at the cost of completeness, for there is much to see here that we have not yet seen – and that we are only now able to see. As the undisputed Paulines are a microcosm of the New Testament, so “the Corinthian digest” is a microcosm of the undisputed Paulines.

 

Paul’s first letter to the believers in Corinth consisted largely of his addressing one issue after another that had arisen in the congregation. In what we call chapter 15 (there were, of course, no chapter and verse divisions in Paul’s original letter), Paul is dealing with the issue that some people in the congregation had begun to say that there would be “no resurrection of the dead” – that is, no general resurrection of all deceased humanity. You may recall from the Gospels that the Sadducees in Jerusalem had held such a view, and this kind of view had apparently gained a foothold with some of the believers in Corinth.

 

In order to dispel the false notion, Paul brings the believers back to their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. He reminds them of what he had preached to them in the beginning, the understanding that had been the foundation of the church in Corinth – and of every church planted by the apostles. Note that in this passage Paul is not trying to convince or even re-convince the Corinthians of Jesus’ resurrection. Rather, he is reminding them of what they themselves believe in order to deal with the issue. And the issue was not that they had lost faith in the history of Jesus’ resurrection, but that they had lost faith in the future resurrection of everyone else.

 

Note also that Paul is calling this message he is repeating to them that which is “of first importance.” That is, this message is the foundation of all that bound the Corinthians to Paul, and, simultaneously, of all that bound all the churches to all the apostles.

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

Be sure to understand that Paul is not trying to correct the Corinthians’ belief about Jesus’ resurrection. Rather he’s reminding them of what they all believe…and what they all believe is of first importance.

 

Note that Paul’s reminder capsule includes four essential historical facts about Jesus: He died, He was buried, He was raised, and He appeared – historical facts that we’ve already cataloged. History about Jesus, therefore, was central to the message that the apostles preached and that the Corinthians believed.

 

There was, however, more to the message than historical facts about a man. What good would it have done to merely announce that a human being had been raised from the dead? Such an event would have simply been an oddity – perhaps a very noteworthy oddity, but an oddity nonetheless. What made the these historical facts so profound – and so wonderful – was the way they were contextualized by the apostles.

 

In the next four chapters, we’re going to examine four critical aspects of the apostolic contextualization given to us in “the Corinthian digest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 34 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Scriptures

 

In “the Corinthian digest” (1 Cor 15:1-11), we see Jesus’ history explained by a set of documents written and collected long before He was ever born. That is, equally important to the historical facts about Jesus was that the things that had happened to Him – most notably, His death and resurrection – had happened “according to the Scriptures.”

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed. – 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

Although Paul and the Corinthians never explicitly said it in these terms, they were claiming that Jesus is the first person in history ever to have his biography written before he was born. This is why the apostles did not rush to write a biography of Jesus – the documentation already existed and was present in practically every synagogue in the Greco-Roman world.

 

Paul makes this same point in the opening to his most thoughtful epistle – his letter to the believers in Rome. With clear and majestic language, he roots the message about Jesus – including its historical claims – deeply in the Scriptures. As in “the Corinthian digest,” Paul establishes that the gospel is according to the Scriptures.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son… – Rom 1:1-3 [emphasis added]

 

Paul then reinforces this point – that this gospel of Jesus was “according to the Scriptures” – in his closing to the same grand letter:

 

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. – Rom 16:25-27 [emphasis added]

 

Thus, in Paul’s mind, the history of Jesus cannot be the gospel if it is not according to the Scriptures.

In “the Corinthian digest,” Paul says explicitly that both Christ’s death and resurrection are “according to the Scriptures” – thus emphasizing these two facts above all the others. But Paul is also evoking the Scriptures when he calls Jesus “Christ” in this statement, for it is from the Scriptures that this term comes. Thus, by calling Jesus “Christ,” Paul is further connecting Jesus he preaches with the Messiah of Scripture.

 

Therefore, the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is of untold importance because they were prophesied in the Scriptures. In contrast to the ways of man, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was documented before the event occurred. Granted, the prophecies had been given in riddle-like fashion. That is, they seemed conflicting until examined in the light of the answer (and this is why Paul spoke of “the revelation of the mystery” in Rom 16:25-27 above). But now that Jesus had been raised from the dead, the Scriptures were opened and the prophecies made sense.

 

The prophecies of the Scripture were not mere predictions – they were promises. A promise is more personal than a prediction. God’s prophets were delivering His promises, and because these promises were delivered by God’s prophets these promises were called prophecies. As to these promises, Paul writes in his second letter to the church at Corinth:

For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. – 2 Cor 1:19-20 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore, to say that the gospel is “according to the Scriptures” is to say that it is “according to the promises” is to say that it is “according to the prophets” is to say that it is “according to the prophecies.” All these phrases are synonymous and refer to what we call the Old Testament. Consider even this phrasing:

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, – Gal 1:3-4 [emphasis added]

 

While it might not be immediately apparent, the emphasized portion refers to the Scriptures. For how else would we know “the will of God” unless He had revealed it, and, of course, the Scriptures would be the place where such revelation would be recorded.

 

Paul was not connecting the biography of Jesus with the New Testament – for this collection would not even be assembled until long after Paul died. The biography of Jesus was being connected with – and explained by – the Old Testament. This is what we must clearly understand when we read “according to the Scriptures” – or words to that effect – in our seven letters.

 

Paul not only connected the historical facts about Jesus to the Scriptures in the general ways we have seen, but he also did so in specific ways – as when he points out that Adam foreshadows Christ:

 

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. – Rom 5:14 [emphasis added]

 

Or in these two instances which apply specific Old Testament verses to Jesus:

 

For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “THE REPROACHES OF THOSE WHO REPROACHED YOU FELL ON ME.” – Rom 15:3 [quoting Psalm 69:9]

 

Again Isaiah says,

THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE,

AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES,

IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE.” – Rom 15:12 [quoting Isaiah 11:10 in the Septuagint]

 

And even where there are no direct quotes, we see Paul making allusions to passages of Scripture that foreshadowed Jesus, as in this evoking of God’s promise that a “seed” would come from Eve:

 

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, – Gal 4:4 [emphasis added; alludes to Gen3:13-15]

 

Of course, all the references to Jesus’ ancestry that we saw in the chapter on that subject are implicit connections of His life to Scripture’s promises of it.

 

Even in “the Corinthian digest” there is a particular allusion to Scripture which is not always obvious to a reader. It is this:

 

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, – 1 Cor 15:3 [emphasis added]

 

There is nothing about looking at Jesus hanging on the cross that would tell His death was “for our sins.” It was the Scriptures – the Old Testament – that gave that awareness (such as Isaiah 53:5). Thus this sentence from the short creed Paul is quoting (that we are calling “the Corinthian digest”) is by this verse referring both in a general way (“according to the Scriptures”) and in a particular way (“for our sins”) to the promises made by God through the prophets.

 

Over and over, in both general and particular ways, these seven letters connect the facts asserted about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with what the Scriptures said. Thus “the Corinthian digest” reminds us that what Jesus did, as well as what was done to Him, was all “according to the Scriptures.” To put it in other words, it reminds us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a claim that He fulfilled the Scriptures. If it turned out that His biography did not fulfill the Scriptures, then the claim falls apart.

 

This is why the Bereans in Acts 17, when presented with Paul’s claims about a resurrected Messiah, searched the Scriptures instead of asking for medical or scientific confirmation. If it wasn’t according to the Scriptures, it wouldn’t matter if Jesus had been raised from the dead. Only if God’s promises were being fulfilled, would people have any reason to believe that Jesus’ resurrection offered any hope to them.

 

For our purposes, we need to recognize that any association of Scripture – whether invoked in general terms or in terms of a specific verse being quoted – with Jesus’ biography, especially His death and resurrection, is additional confirmation of the truth and importance of the historical Jesus to the people of the undisputed Paulines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 35 – The Corinthian Digest: According to – and Activating – the Gospel

 

Another way we could refer to “the Corinthian digest” (1 Cor 15:11) would be to call it “a summary of the gospel.” For as he begins the passage, Paul says,

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

- 1 Cor 15:1-2 [emphasis added]

 

Thus, based on what we saw in the previous chapter, we see that Paul is saying “the gospel” = the historical facts about Jesus explained by the Scriptures. Let me say that again: the gospel can be defined as the historical facts about Jesus explained by the Scriptures.

 

Now let’s look at Paul’s reference to “the gospel” in the context of the entire passage:

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

You see that I’ve emphasized not just the word “gospel” in the passage, but also all the words that allude to it – such as “preached” and “believed.” This passage is thus an encapsulation of the gospel – the history of Jesus according to the Scriptures.

 

This is why the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are called “Gospels.” They are the biography of Jesus explained by the Scriptures. Without the references to Scripture sprinkled throughout them, they would not “the gospel.” They would simply be a biography. And, conversely, talking about the promises of Scripture without connecting them to historical facts about Jesus would not constitute “the gospel” either.

 

 

Gospel Means “Good News”

 

In Greek, the word “gospel” is “euaggelion.” The prefix “eu-” means “good” – the same sort of prefix we see in our English words “euphoric” (good feeling) and “euphonic” (good sounding). The stem “-aggelion” comes from the Greek word for “messenger.” Thus you can see how “gospel” can mean “good message” or “good news.”

 

The gospel was resident but dormant in the Old Testament. It resided there as a matter of “promise,” “prophecy,” and thus hope. What the biographical facts about Jesus did was convert this hope to a present reality. Thus we can say that the facts about Jesus of Nazareth catalyzed the gospel found in the Old Testament and made it the “good news” that Paul and the other apostles were announcing.

 

 

Activating the Gospel

 

As we saw in the previous chapter and this one, the gospel message lay dormant in the Old Testament awaiting the time of its activation. It was a set of prophecies waiting to be fulfilled, a set of promises waiting to be kept. As a seed fertilizes an egg to inaugurate new life, so the biography of Jesus was the catalyst that activated the gospel.

 

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the prophets’ message of “God is going to…” became the apostles’ message of “God has now begun to…” The resurrection of Jesus was the beginning of the new creation, which would lead to the resurrection of the dead – meaning all the dead. This was the good news!

 

The good news can be understood as the apostles declaring “This is that!” where “this” is the historical Jesus they witnessed and “that” is prophecies of Him they found in the Old Testament. Jesus was the prophecies fulfilled, the promises kept. He was the realization of the gospel.

The activation of the gospel was dependent on Jesus having been raised. Jesus being raised was dependent on His having been dead. Jesus being dead was dependent on His having been alive. And the importance of all of these things is dependent on Jesus having been the Christ.

 

As soon as you say “the gospel of Jesus Christ” you have wedded the biography of Jesus to the prophecies about Messiah. Therefore, you have no gospel to announce if the historical aspect of it is suspect.

 

 

Preaching the Gospel

 

You can’t preach the gospel without making known the historical Jesus, for, as we’ve seen, especially in “the Corinthian digest,” the historical facts about Jesus are part and parcel of that gospel. Thus the proclamation of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus – by virtue of His resurrection from the dead, and His ascension into heaven – has been declared both Lord and Messiah.

 

The word “gospel” appears 58 times in the undisputed Paulines. The word preach, sometimes in connection with the “gospel” and sometimes without it, appears 40 times. But even in the latter cases, the word “gospel” is implied because the apostles never preached anything else. Allusions to the gospel only add to these numbers.

 

Though I will not take the space to include any verses of the following kind, consider that synonymous terms for “gospel” could well include “the word of the Lord,” “the word of God,” “message,” “the word of Christ,” “exhortation,” “traditions,” “(that which was) handed down,” “(that which was) delivered to you,” “confess,” “confession,” and more. Thus references to the gospel in the uncontested letters of Paul is even greater than it might first appear.

 

Back to explicit references, the word “gospel” in the undisputed Paulines often appears in solo form (that is, “the gospel”), but that was because it had become shorthand for its fuller forms:

 

The gospel of God…concerning His Son – Rom 1:1-3

 

The gospel of His Son – Rom 1:9

 

The gospel of Christ – Rom 15:19

 

The gospel of the glory of Christ – 2 Cor 4:4

 

These fuller expressions confirm that the gospel is about the Christ (that is, the one who was promised), the Son of God (that is, the one who rose from the dead).

 

Paul similarly condemns anyone who preaches another gospel (Gal 1:8-9) or another Jesus (2 Cor 11:4)…because preaching another gospel and preaching another Jesus amount to the same error.

 

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. – Phil 1:12-20 [emphasis added]

 

Replace “Him” in this verse with “the gospel” and you’ll recognize that it wouldn’t change Paul’s meaning a whit:

 

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,

- Gal 1:15-16 [emphasis added]

 

Only when people were proclaiming the historical Jesus were they proclaiming the true gospel; only when they were proclaiming the true gospel were they proclaiming the historical Jesus. At least this is the view of the people whose written interactions we are studying.

 

That the gospel has inherent within it historical claims about Jesus means that any invocation of that term is an implicit repetition of those historical claims. Thus the multiplied references to preaching the gospel throughout the undisputed Paulines are an affirmation of, among other things, the historicity of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

Here are some samples of the many explicit references to the gospel you see throughout the undisputed Paulines. For the most part, these verses are additional to, and not duplicative of, verses I have previously shown you in this book.

 

For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you…So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Rom 1:9, 15-16 [emphasis added]

 

I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. – 1 Cor 9:23 [emphasis added]

 

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,

- Gal 1:15-16 [emphasis added]

 

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. – Phil 1:7 [emphasis added]

 

whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; – Phile 1:13 [emphasis added]

 

The gospel is more than the historical facts about Jesus Christ, but it cannot be less than that. Put another way, you cannot extract the historicity of Jesus from the gospel and still have the gospel.

 

 

Recognizing the Gospel

 

We’ve seen that the amount of historical detail in the gospel could vary by believer, but that there was a historical core held in common by all of them. Also varying was the degree of prophetic detail from the Old Testament that a believer could associate with the historical Jesus. Thus the “size” of the gospel – whether as communicated or as received and understood – was a function of how much detail about 1) the historical Jesus and 2) the messianic prophecies was in the content.

 

Generally speaking, the apostles had a baseline knowledge of historical facts about Jesus because they had lived with Him for some three years. To this, they might add knowledge of what happened at His birth – and that could have come through His mother or brothers. As for the prophecies that would not only have predicted Jesus’ earthly life, but that would have also explained the glories to be bestowed on Him afterward in heaven, these apostles would have been initially instructed about these in the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Then through prayer, study of the Scriptures, and interaction with the Holy Spirit they would have continued to accumulate insights. For example, they did not come to appreciate the full enfranchising of the Gentiles until long after Jesus had ascended into heaven. For apostles appointed after the initial twelve, like Paul, there would have to be more work in learning the historical details of Jesus’ life. The point is that everyone – apostles and followers alike – were growing in their understanding of Jesus’ biography and what it meant for humanity in the light of the Scriptures of the prophets.

If you measure the gospel as it existed when it was first preached after Jesus resurrection against it as it existed in decades later as the last New Testament documents were being written, the gospel would have increased immeasurably – not as much because additional historical details about Jesus would have come to light but more because more understanding about the prophecies of Messiah’s glory would have come to light. These were the sort of “revelations” of Scripture taking place in church meetings through the work of the Holy Spirit, as in this case:

 

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. – 1 Cor 14:26 [emphasis added]

 

Because the gospel was increasing, Paul could write this to the believers in Rome:

 

So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

- Rom 1:15

 

If the gospel were static in size, there would be no need for someone to “preach the gospel” to a congregation of believers. They would have already heard it.

 

That the gospel could be described as increasing does not at all mean that it was changing, because its core never changed – that core being that the life of Jesus fulfilled what the prophets had written, most notably through His crucifixion and resurrection. Therefore, every faithful preaching of the gospel of Jesus would involve something old (a reinforcement of the basic core initially and always preached) and something new (additional insights gleaned as God continued opening the minds of His people to understand the Scriptures).

 

 

Recognizing the Gospel in its Various Sizes

 

You can recognize by now that the gospel as communicated in “the Corinthian digest” is the very same gospel as that communicated by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It’s just that those latter four writings contain far more historical detail, and even prophetic explanation, than the encapsulation we find in 1 Cor 15:1-11.

 

Have you considered that there are even more succinct encapsulations of the gospel than the one we have been studying? Think about these:

 

…every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… – Phil 2:11 [emphasis added]

 

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord… – 2 Cor 4:5 [emphasis added]

 

…confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord… – Rom 10:9 [emphasis added]

 

Or how about this one:

 

…say, “Jesus is Lord,”… – 1 Cor 12:3

 

How do you get more succinct than a three-word statement? Well, you can. Here’s a two-word encapsulation of the gospel, and note that Paul is calling it what it is: the foundation, or core, upon which all historical details can be added, but which foundational core they can never change:

 

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor 3:11 [emphasis added]

 

Do you recognize the “This is that!” gospel formulation in this phrase, and in the phrases above it? “Jesus” speaks to the life historically lived (This!) and “Christ” (or “Lord” in the verses above) speaks to the promises made by God in the Scriptures (That!).

 

In the same way, you could hold the pages of the New Testament in your right hand and say “This is…” while holding the pages of the Old Testament in your left hand and say “…that!” No matter how long or short is it, the gospel is always about Jesus and always consists in two components: prophetic and apostolic, the former stemming from Old Testament times (predictive) and the latter from New Testament times (descriptive). The prophets announced what He would do (prophecy), the apostles report what He did do (history)…and they always amount to the same thing. “This is that!”

 

Whether it’s a mini-mini-gospel like the name “Jesus Christ” in 1 Cor 3:11, or a mini-gospel like “the Corinthian digest,” or an expansive gospel like the Gospel according to Matthew, the gospel is the gospel and it never changes. All are the gospel – just varying in the degrees of detail. And this gospel keeps growing like a seed in our understanding…if we keep it planted.

 

A new convert in one of the locations to which our seven letters were sent, might not know much more of the gospel than what we read in “the Corinthians digest.” Contrast that with how much of the gospel was resident in the mind of the apostle Paul. The goal for every convert was to grow in the gospel – that is, in the grace and knowledge of the Lord – over time through instruction, prayer, and discipline. Regardless of one’s level of knowledge, however, there was always an element of history about Jesus in that knowledge because, as we’ve seen, the gospel has to include some history of Jesus to actually be the gospel. Therefore, wherever we see a reference to, or affirmation of, the gospel we are seeing a reference to, or affirmation of, the historical Jesus.

 

Once you begin the recognize that the gospel can be conveyed with different words and in different degrees of detail, you begin to recognize it all over the undisputed Paulines as well as the rest of the New Testament.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 36 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Apostles

 

As we have seen, the gospel is the message about Jesus – that His crucifixion and resurrection are fulfillment of prophecy. This message did not originate with the apostles. It was the message Jesus Himself sent through His apostles. It was to them that He appeared – not to people at large. Note the references to this in “the Corinthian digest” of the gospel:

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

Therefore, just as the historical milestones of Jesus’ biography are an inextricable part of the gospel, so the gospel is forever linked to the apostles who were assigned to proclaim it.

 

Referring to the Greek, the word “apostle” means “a messenger, one sent on a mission” and comes from the verb “to send.” The apostles were delegates of Jesus, sent with His message – first to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. Being “one sent on a mission” was more than merely being “a messenger.” The apostles were emissaries, ambassadors. They were given authority to carry out their assignments. Note some of Paul’s references to this authority:

 

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. – 1 Thess 2:5-6 [emphasis added]

 

For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame,

- 2 Cor 10:8 [emphasis added]

 

 

For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down. – 2 Cor 13:10 [emphasis added]

 

The mission of the apostles was to proclaim the gospel. For this reason they were entrusted with the gospel. As Paul wrote:

 

…we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. – 1 Thess 2:4 [emphasis added]

 

Consider also that Paul equates being an apostle with being associated with the gospel.

 

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, – Rom 1:1 [emphasis added]

 

And in what follows, Paul indicates that what was true for him in this regard was true for the other apostles as well.

 

…seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),

- Gal 2:7-8 [emphasis added]

 

The gospel was not something the apostles created; it was something with which they were entrusted. And it was something with which they would forever be associated.

 

There were two key aspects of the apostles’ transmission of the gospel from Jesus to people. That is, there were two parts to their ministry as apostles: testimony and teaching. As for testimony, they bore witness to the historical facts about Jesus. As for teaching, they explained how the biographical facts about Jesus had been promised – or prophesied, if you prefer – in the Scriptures.

 

Bearing witness faithfully was a core value for the Jews. After all, “Thou shall not bear false witness” was one of the Ten Commandments. All the apostles were Jews, and were, of course, appointed to their roles by a Jew. Thus the notion of their being sloppy about the Jesus history they reported is unthinkable. They would have been sure to get the facts right. Paul goes so far to say that they would deserve the epithet of “false witnesses” were they to misrepresent a material fact about Jesus (1 Cor 15:15). And that’s why we have seen unerring consistency in their reporting of these biographical facts.

 

As for the teaching aspect of apostolic ministry, let’s clarify some terms. In a general sense, the sense with which I’ve just used it, “teaching” and “preaching” would be considered roughly synonymous. However, in a more technical sense, “preaching” is more “proclaiming” or “announcing” or “declaring,” while “teaching” is more “explaining” or “instructing” or “describing.” Thus the apostles would enter a new city to preach (proclaim) the gospel, and subsequently teach (explain) it to those who had believed what had been preached. For this reason, Paul could say,

 

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. – 1 Cor 1:21 [emphasis added]

 

The “message preached” included both eyewitness testimony about Jesus as well as teaching about His prophetic relevance.

 

Therefore, we see that the apostles were by the very definition of their office testifying to, and explaining the significance of, the historical facts about Jesus’ life. This applies whether the facts being reported were the main two – that is, Messiah’s crucifixion and resurrection as we see reported in “the Corinthian digest” – or were an extensive, organized collection of many such facts as we see in each of the four Gospels. The apostles were the ones entrusted with the gospel for the purpose of spreading it. Since that gospel had as an essential component the relevant biographical details about Jesus, any reference to the apostles in the undisputed Paulines was an implicit reminder of the historicity of Jesus.

 

 

An Additional Link to Historicity

 

With regard to the apostles, however, there is yet another way in which their very existence bears witness to the historical reality of Jesus. It is goes back to the very meaning of their name. Remember that “apostle” means “a sent one.” Jesus was the one sending. He couldn’t very well be sending them if He was mythical. Neither could He entrust a gospel about His being resurrected to them unless He was resurrected. Therefore, the very claim to be an apostle was a tacit claim to historical reality of Jesus – crucified and resurrected.

 

Paul’s claim to apostleship was a particularly vivid instance of this sort of claim. This is because His claim was to have been appointed to the post by the heavenly Jesus – who, by all that the Scripture taught about death – could only have gotten there by virtue of resurrection from the dead.

 

Remember that we will not address the question about whether the undisputed Paulines were right about the historical facts they claim for Jesus until we get to the last chapter. In this and all the chapters up to that last one, we are merely documenting what they thought.

 

 

All the Apostles

 

The undisputed Paulines in general and “the Corinthian digest” in particular make it clear that the gospel according to the Scriptures that was preached was preached by all the apostles – not just Paul and his immediate co-workers.

 

Speaking in general, we saw earlier in this chapter this passage from Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia in which he saw himself and Peter as examples of how the gospel had been entrusted to all the apostles.

 

…seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles),

- Gal 2:7-8 [emphasis added]

 

Speaking in particular, note how Paul begins “the Corinthian digest” with the reminder that the gospel was commonly entrusted to, and commonly preached by, all apostles. Paul even makes clear that the gospel he originally preached to the Corinthians was not original with him – that he himself had “received” it. This makes sense because Paul would not have been able to originate such a statement given that he was not a disciple of Jesus until well after the biographical facts mentioned took place. Note in the emphasized portions below how Paul speaks of the apostles’ common relationship to the gospel he had preached and was now repeating.

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

Thus Messiah’s death and resurrection were essential biographical facts about Jesus that tied Him to the prophecies of old and that therefore became part and parcel of what all the apostles – not just Paul- conveyed to all who would hear them.

 

By the way, we also see Paul using this language of “delivered and received” information in what he wrote to the Corinthians about the last supper.

 

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” – 1 Cor 11:23-25 [emphasis added]

 

Peter was there that night. John and the rest of the twelve, too. But Paul was not. Therefore, the way that Paul knew what took place that night was by “receiving” the word of it by those who were there. We see almost this same statement in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 22:17-20), who accessed eyewitness testimony that he then put to paper (Luke 1:1-4). This is yet another biographical fact that was transmitted from apostles to believers. It’s a detail and not a headline (like crucifixion and resurrection), but an important detail.

 

The connection between the gospel preached originally by the twelve apostles and that preached by Paul is further confirmed in the undisputed Paulines by more subtle means. For example, we have seen Aramaic expressions in the undisputed Paulines (“Maranatha,” “Abba,” and “Cephas”) – all cataloged in the chapter on “References to His Location.” Paul’s usage of terms like these without having to explain the terms to his readers – is further indication that the gospel message that originated in Palestine was the very same one being proclaimed by even a “Johnny-come-lately” apostle like Paul who hailed from a city of eastern Asia Minor.

 

Yet another example of the confirmation we can see in the undisputed Paulines that the gospel preached by the apostles was one and the same is the fact that Corinth, though the church there had been founded by Paul, had been visited by multiple apostles – both true apostles (like Peter) and false ones. Paul makes reference to both types in his two letters to Corinth. Paul constantly seeks to bring his readers back to faith, not by saying he was right and everyone else was wrong, but rather by reminding his readers of the gospel facts that he and the true apostles had commonly preached.

 

 

The Apostles and the Prophets

 

Remember that “the Corinthian digest” makes clear that Messiah’s crucifixion and resurrection were “according to the Scriptures.” Remember also that this means “according to the prophets,” for it was the prophets who had written the Scriptures (that is, what we call the Old Testament). As Paul stated explicitly,

 

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. – Rom 16:25-27 [emphasis added]

 

Thus the prophets supplied the prophetic component of the gospel and apostles supplied the historical component. Remember that the apostles bore witness to the biography of Jesus (their testimony) and explained its connection to the Scriptures (their teaching).

 

The gospel, as made known in the undisputed Paulines and throughout the New Testament was an announcement of fulfilled prophecy…of prophesied history. The prophets had contributed the prophecy and the apostles were contributing the history. Further, the apostles were explaining the connection between the prophecy and the history – thus combining a teaching function with their testimony function. These are the two parts of their ministry as apostles.

 

 

The Apostles and History

 

As we have seen, the essential function of the apostles was to report history – specifically, the biography the Messiah that the prophets had promised. Sometimes the apostles reported that biography and its Scriptural roots in headlines – as we see in “the Corinthian digest.” Other times, they reported it in significant detail – as we see in the four Gospels. In either case, their claim was to be reporting what had actually happened and how it had been prophesied. To make that claim – even at the risk of death – was their life’s mission.

 

The apostles did not have the opportunities – or temptations – that come to televangelists or Christian celebrities today. They were not offered lucrative book contracts for their writings. Paul never received royalties from the undisputed Paulines. According the sparse reports we have, most of the apostles died martyrs’ deaths. For example, Peter and Paul are both believed to have been executed in Rome for their efforts – Peter by crucifixion and Paul by beheading. The very sparseness of the reports proves that they died in relative obscurity, with an entourage to chronicle and preserve their achievements.

 

Wonder what it was like to be an apostle in those days? Listen to Paul’s description.

 

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. – 1 Cor 4:9-13

 

Thus the life of an apostle in the first century was inglorious and dangerous. And it was their historical claims about Jesus that made it so.

 

Therefore, every reference to “apostle” in the undisputed Paulines – and there are many of them sprinkled throughout those letters – is a reminder of the death-defying claim that Jesus lived…and that He lived again…and that He will never cease living.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 37 – The Corinthian Digest: According to the Faith

 

Who were the people to whom the undisputed Paulines were written? Oh, we know that they were Jews and they were Gentiles. We know that they were Greeks and they were Romans. We know that they were poor and they were rich. But what did they have in common – what united them? They believed. The writers of the seven letters called them…”believers.”

 

 

The Content of Their Faith

 

What was it – specifically – that these recipients of the undisputed Paulines believed? According to “the Corinthian digest, it was the gospel. Note the emphasized portions in context:

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

It’s not just “the Corinthian digest” that makes this point, but we see it elsewhere in the undisputed Paulines as well:

 

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. – 1 Thess 2:13 [emphasis added]

 

I have said from the beginning of the book that these seven letters we are studying demonstrate not merely what the senders preached about the historical Jesus, but also what recipients believed about the historical Jesus. The gospel message is what unified the senders and receivers. The historical Jesus was never a matter of dispute between senders and receivers. On the contrary, it was often the means of resolving disputes about other things. Most notably, Paul invoked “the Corinthian digest” to resolve a dispute that had arisen about whether or not deceased humanity would be resurrected. That Jesus had been resurrected was never in doubt, never questioned.

 

For this reason, we can strengthen our perception of the historical Jesus not just by paying attention to what the apostles preached, but also to what the believers believed. This correlation between what was preached and what was believed can be seen not only in “the Corinthian digest” but elsewhere in the undisputed Paulines, too.

 

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” – Rom 10:14-15 [emphasis added]

 

Thus throughout our seven letters – and the rest of the New Testament as well – what was believed is what was preached. Did all believe? Of course, not – but we have no letters from the apostles to unbelievers. All the letters we have are addressed to those who did believe. Therefore, what was believed is a repetition of, and therefore a confirmation of, what was preached. For this reason we can find the historical Jesus in what the receivers of the undisputed Paulines thought as well as in what the senders thought.

 

Because what was believed was the mirror image of what had been preached, Paul could write something in his second letter to Corinth that built on some things he’d said in the first.

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. – 1 Cor 15:1-2 [emphasis added]

 

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. – 1 Cor 16:13 [emphasis added]

 

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? But I trust that you will realize that we ourselves do not fail the test.

- 2 Cor 13:5-6 [emphasis added]

 

Paul had exhorted them to “stand” in the faith; he was then asking them to “test” themselves to see if they were indeed standing in it. In so asking, Paul was making clear that he was applying the same test to himself. This makes perfect sense because his view is that gospel he preached is the same gospel both he and they needed to be believing.

 

Looking at things from the other side of the equation, Paul pointed out that the Corinthians’ belief in the gospel was proof that he as an apostle had faithfully preached it.

 

If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. – 1 Cor 9:2 [emphasis added]

 

Remember also that the faith Paul was preaching was a faith that he had initially opposed.

 

…they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” – Gal 1:23 [emphasis added]

 

When Paul wrote about “faith,” it was about faith in Christ – the historical Jesus fulfilling prophecy. When he wrote about “the faith” it was about faith in the gospel which included specific historical facts about Jesus. For example, Gal 1:23 just above shows Paul talking about “the faith” in just this way. In the beginning of their knowledge and understanding, believers might only have learned the headlines about Jesus’ life; as time went on, they’d learn more of the details – building on the original core. New details learned, however, would never contradict or overturn the headlines that had been given from the beginning and had been labeled as “of first importance” – “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared…”

 

Here are some more examples of Paul speaking of “the faith” in his letters. In the first, he contrasts the time of the law of Moses with his time (that is, New Testament times) when “the faith” – that is, the gospel of Jesus Christ – began to be proclaimed.

 

But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. – Gal 3:23 [emphasis added]

 

All those who sent and received the undisputed Paulines – as well as the other New Testament writings – were rightly called the household of “the faith.”

 

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. – Gal 6:10 [emphasis added]

 

And note in the following passage that “the faith” is something that could grow – with increasing knowledge of Christ – but would never be replaced. That is, learning more details about Jesus Christ could never, should never, obscure the headlines about Him that had originally been proclaimed.

 

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; – Phil 1:25-17 [emphasis added]

 

Since the believers to whom the undisputed Paulines were addressed accepted “the faith” as delivered to them by the apostles, we are just as correct to say we are identifying the gospel “according to the faith” as we are to say the gospel “according to the believers.” And both, of course, are the same as saying “the gospel according to the Scriptures” and “the gospel according to the apostles.” It is all the same gospel. And it is a gospel that includes – as essential – historical facts about Jesus.

 

Therefore, faith in Jesus, as observed in the undisputed Paulines, is faith in Jesus’ biography as reported by the apostles, including His continued existence in heaven, and the meaning of these things as defined in the Scriptures of the prophets.

 

 

We Have Found the Faith They Held

 

In surveying these seven letters of Paul we have found faith – the faith practiced by the saints. It is the faith that was preached to them by the apostles. It was the faith that Israel’s Messiah had suffered on earth and was now being glorified in heaven. The belief that Jesus is alive permeates these letters. It permeates the letters because it permeates the lives, not just of those who sent them, but those who received them as well. Through our study, we are seeing clearly what the believers believed.

 

As we saw earlier, the undisputed Paulines were addressed to believers over a wide geographic expanse. We’ve also seen how that expanse was actually even wider because of the references in these letters to the faith of those in Palestine. Thus from one end of the Roman Empire to other, we have evidence of innumerable people basing their faith on the historical Jesus who fulfilled Old Testament prophecy.

 

At this point, the only faith we’ve found is the one held in New Testament times. We’ll address what you believe only when we get to the last chapter. Until then, I’m just trying to make sure you understand what the recipients of the undisputed Paulines believed. And it was exactly the same thing as what the apostles preached. And what the apostles preached was a historical Jesus who had been prophesied. This was the gospel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 38 – Beyond the Corinthian Digest: The Absolute Necessity of Historicity

 

I have shown you numerous ways – explicit and implicit – in which the undisputed Paulines document the importance of the historical Jesus to both sender and receivers of those letters. In fact, “importance” is too mild a term; we’ve seen that the historicity of Jesus (life, death, resurrection, ascension) is absolutely essential to those people. It is time now to draw your attention to the most dramatic and emphatic way that this point was made.

 

As you’ve seen, the purpose for which Paul wrote “the Corinthian digest” was not to prove the content of “the Corinthian digest,” which was a reminder of the resurrection of Jesus. Rather, Paul’s purpose was to prove that the whole human race was going to be raised from the dead. To prove this, Paul was invoking that which his addressees would agree was already proven and agreed upon: the resurrection of Jesus.

 

Watch what Paul says immediately after “the Corinthian digest” in order to try to make his point about the human race. He is going to tell them just how essential their faith in the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection actually is.

 

Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. – 1 Cor 15:12-20 [emphasis added]

 

Paul is doing what you’d have to call “putting it all on the line.”

 

Remember all the claims that are baked into the simple statement “Christ…raised” – besides the nominal claim itself. Think about it. To call Jesus “Christ” is to claim that He’s the messiah promised by the prophets in the Old Testament. To claim that He was raised from the dead is to claim that He had died sometime prior to His resurrection. To claim that He died is to claim that He had lived. To claim that He lived is to claim that He had been born. To claim that He had been born was to claim that He had been born qualified to be the Messiah – that is, a descendant of David – because no one can change his ancestry after he’s been born. That’s a lot of historical (biographical) claims embedded in a single short statement. This makes Paul’s assertion about the criticality of Christ’s having been raised in 1 Cor 15:12-20 above all the more striking and worthy of attention.

 

Paul is saying that if the claim that Jesus was raised from the dead was a non-historical claim then the entire Christian enterprise falls apart. And it would deserve to fall apart, because it would have been based on a lie. However, Paul says, “Christ has been raised from the dead,” making sure that no one thinks for a minute that there should be any doubt about this most critical aspect of Jesus’ biography.

 

So, do the undisputed Paulines present a historical Jesus? Not so much as they boldly insist upon it! In fact, it’s not too much to say that the people associated with these letters stake their lives on the historical Jesus that they present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 39 – What We Have Learned from the Undisputed Paulines

 

It’s time collect our thoughts and review what we have learned in our study of the historical Jesus in the undisputed Paulines. Specifically, let us focus our minds on the faith we have found in these letters.

 

 

The Faith We Have Found

 

We have learned from the undisputed Paulines what the apostles preached and what the churches believed. It is a message called the gospel that included as essential historical facts about Jesus which validate that He was 1) the Messiah of Israel promised by God in the Scriptures of the prophets, 2) rejected by the Jews and crucified by the Gentiles, and 3) was raised from the dead three days later. That’s one way to summarize it. Let’s remind ourselves of specific ways that these seven letters themselves summarized this message.

 

In one of these letters, we found a conscious recital of what apparently had been a creed passed on orally from the earliest days of the Christian movement – perhaps within days or weeks of Jesus’ resurrection. This creed is the undisputed Paulines’ own summary of the faith held by senders and receivers of the letters – and even of all the apostles and all the churches in that day. It’s what we’ve called “the Corinthian digest,” which I hope you’ll be willing to review one more time – especially since it was marked as “as of first importance” and preceded the writing of any of the letters.

 

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

- 1 Cor 15:1-11 [emphasis added]

 

And then there were even more succinct summaries, such as:

 

…the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead… – Rom 1:2-4

 

…”Jesus is Lord”… – 1 Cor 12:3

 

Or how about the most succinct of all:

 

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. – 1 Cor 3:11 [emphasis added]

 

Each of these summaries of the gospel, from the longest to the shortest, encapsulated the two components necessary for the gospel: history about Jesus and prophecy from the Scriptures.

 

It’s odd, by the way, that some people will say that faith has nothing to do with history or that it has nothing with reason. As you have seen, however, faith has everything to do with history and everything to do with reason. For without the history of Jesus and without the reasons for it given by the Scriptures, there is no gospel!

 

With the summaries of the gospels we found in the uncontested letters of Paul, along with all the detail that we cataloged there, we were even able to produce a brief bio of Jesus for our hypothetical one-volume encyclopedia. Of course, we did not try to put into it everything we learned – just the main points. Let’s review it.

 

Jesus – a Jew, descendant of King David, born early first century C.E. and dwelling in Palestine. Regarded as a preacher and practitioner of righteousness by his Jewish followers, he was eventually betrayed and handed over to the Roman authorities, who crucified him. On the third day, He was raised from the dead, appeared multiple times to His disciples over a forty-day period, then ascending to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, from which He would eventually come in glory on the day of the Lord.

 

These then are the basic historical facts about Jesus as perceived by those who sent and those who received the seven letters. We have learned that there was no doubt or dispute between the senders and receivers of these letters about any of these historical claims. These letters mention that there were some false teachers of Jesus, and they could be known as false because they did not adhere to this message that the senders had originally preached and the receivers had initially received.

 

 

There Was No Uncertainty or Confusion About This Faith

 

The senders and receivers of these letters had many disagreements and misunderstandings. However, none of the disputes or confusion had anything to do with the historical claims about Jesus. In fact, it was those historical claims and their corroboration by the prophecies of the Scriptures to which the senders and receivers could return again and again to iron out contention and clarify uncertainty. So, while the implications of the gospel were something with which senders and receivers commonly groped and grappled, the gospel itself was unquestioned – and the gospel included the historical facts about Jesus.

 

There’s a reason that we find no controversy about Jesus’ biography in these letters. The undisputed Paulines, having been written a couple of decades after Jesus’ life, were not uncovering – or even seeking to uncover – new historical facts about Him. Those critical facts had been established in preceding years. Jesus’ biography was solid and settled. The senders and receivers were only concerned with plumbing the meaning of those facts in the light of the Scriptures – especially the glories that were being assigned to Him in heaven.

 

Beyond the many explicit references to Jesus’ historicity, we have also seen that there are many implicit references to it as well. For example, we have learned that…

 

…historical facts about Jesus are always part of the gospel, regardless of whether the gospel content is large or small. Therefore, any reference to the gospel is an implied reference to the historical Jesus.

 

…historical facts about Jesus are always part of any connection of Him to Scripture (that is, the Old Testament), because it’s the historical facts of His life that were prophesied in Scripture that matter most to the senders and receivers of the letters.

 

…historical facts about Jesus are always part of the apostles’ ministry, because their very purpose was to represent Him to the world.

 

…historical facts about Jesus are always part of the faith held by New Testament believers, because what they believed was the gospel that had been preached to them.

 

Therefore, any reference in the undisputed Paulines to the gospel, fulfilled Scripture, the apostles and their preaching, or the faith of believers is, generally speaking, an implicit claim to historicity for Jesus.

 

When we add these implicit references to the historical facts about Jesus to all the explicit references we have to those facts, we see that the historicity of Jesus is pervasive in the undisputed Paulines – as it is throughout the New Testament.

 

The undisputed Paulines are 7 of the New Testament’s 27 books. Had we included all 27 books in our study of Jesus’ life, we would have seen 1) the general outline of His life confirmed, and 2) the details of His life supplemented (extensively by the Gospels). Therefore, surveying all 27 books would only have made our study take longer; it wouldn’t have resulted in contrary findings. Building a catalog of references to the historical Jesus from the entire New Testament would only have confirmed everything we have learned from these seven letters. To put it another way, our encyclopedia article above might expand, but nothing in it would need to be changed or removed.

 

Throughout this book, I have kept the emphasis on what the senders and receivers of these letters considered historical about Jesus. We have wanted to understand their view rather than prematurely judge it. Finally, it is time to answer the question “Are we willing to accept their view?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 40 – Conclusion

 

Well, here it is: the moment of decision I’ve promised. Because of the subject matter, I’ll speak more personally in this chapter than in any of the others. I figure if I’m going to ask you to deal personally with this material, I should let you in on how I deal personally with it.

 

 

Are These Writings Really What They Appear to Be?

 

As I reported to you back in the third chapter (“How We Will Learn from These Letters”), the text of the New Testament is stable. It is the most stable of all ancient texts. Does this mean that we have to accept that these letters are what they appear to be? I think we should, and I sought your support for doing this. However, at this stage, I’m willing to re-visit the subject and spend a little more time on it so that you can feel that we’ve really come to this conclusion fairly.

 

Think about it. There are thousands of Greek manuscripts confirming the text of the New Testament. Additionally, there are thousands more manuscripts representing early translations of the Greek. All these copies differ only in minor, immaterial ways – the ways you would expect handwritten copies to vary. You can actually confirm this for yourself by looking at English translations. Go to any place they sell Bibles and see if you can find one that says something different than the rest. They’ll all have Jesus as Lord, Herod as the Jewish king, Pontius Pilate as the Roman governor who ordered Him executed, and so on. Therefore, if the text is not what it appears to be, the fraud has to have been perpetrated at the time the originals were made because the copies all say the same thing!

 

The originals, however, have to look like the copies because the copies all look alike – and the copies could only look alike if they were copied from a common source. Therefore, when we look at our Bibles today, we are essentially looking at the originals.

 

Most modern skeptics have not thought through their assumptions in these matters. They neglect the reality of how all these copies came into being. It’s not like the undisputed Paulines were a book printed and distributed by a book publisher or church denomination. Paul wrote his letters from different locations and sent them to different locations. There was no central authority of any kind controlling the process. What copies were made could only have been made initially by Paul and his co-workers on the sending end or the various congregations on the receiving end. Once copies started being made, they could end up anywhere…and they did end up everywhere! The copies we have of the New Testament came from all over the Greco-Roman world. Once you understand how the copies were produced – one by one, in who-knows-how-many different cities and towns – you recognize that there was never an opportunity to change the texts – either the originals or the copies – in any material way. Any such illicit alterations would stick out like a sore thumb because they would be different from all the others which were being copied and distributed all over the Roman Empire by anyone who chose to do so.

 

Besides all this, I’ve reported to you that the majority of both modern and ancient scholars believe that the apostle Paul – known also as Saul of Tarsus – was the primary author of these seven letters. If the experts agree that he’s the author, do any of them think he was falsifying his own letters? I’ve read a lot – including a lot by skeptics – but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that when Paul wrote these letters he was fabricating the congregations in Rome, Corinth, and so on – making it look like he was a traveling preacher when he really wasn’t.

 

People may quibble about a word here or a phrase there, but there is no reasonable basis for saying that these letters are anything other than what they appear to be: written communications from early Christian leaders, most notably Paul, to congregations of believers for which the leaders felt some responsibility, dating from the middle of the first century.

 

I’m not asking just yet if you think they were right about the things they said. At this point, I’m only asking if you think they were sincere in what they wrote – that is, if the letters are what they look like they are…or if you think Paul and his co-workers were trying to trick posterity by fabricating all those congregations and respective issues in Corinth, controversy in Galatia, and so on.

 

Only an avid conspiracy theorist could believe that the undisputed Paulines are not what they appear to be. Given their provenance, roughly described above, and their almost two-thousand-year history as literary treasures, it would be easier to have faked the moon landing than to have faked the undisputed Paulines.

 

 

Did the People of These Letters Know What They Were Talking About?

 

Okay, we have what we have. The letters say what they say. They reveal about their senders and receivers what they reveal. The question now is, “Are we willing to accept their testimony or not?” We have learned what they thought was true, historical, and factual – do we agree with them…or do we think we know better?

 

If “the historical Jesus” is different from “the Christ of faith” then one or both have been altered. The very juxtaposition “Historical Jesus versus Christ of Faith” is a false dichotomy. As we have seen, the seven letters we’ve studied allow no Christ of faith other than the historical Jesus. Is their view of history one we should adopt as our own? Should their historical Jesus be our Christ of faith?

 

The people of these seven letters – and I’m including in this not just the senders and receivers but also the people for whom they spoke, like Peter and James – were closer in time and place to the events discussed than we are. Further, the seven letters amply demonstrate that all these people unanimously and emphatically agree about the fundamental milestones of Jesus’ life – birth, life, death by crucifixion, and resurrection according to prophecies written long before Jesus’ birth. Does their conviction about these things mean that they were right? Maybe not, but you have to decide just how much more evidence you will require before you accept their verdict. As much as Thomas?

 

 

The Positive Case for Adopting their Faith

 

There are reasons we ought to believe the historical facts about Jesus found in the seven letters we’ve studied.

 

The gospel – including, of course, its historical claims – offers plausible and persuasive answers to what are inarguably life’s biggest problems: sin (evil) and death. Have you already figured out why there’s evil in the world or have you developed your own solution to death? What other religion, philosophy, worldview, outlook on life, -ism, or other way of thinking even attempts to directly answer these two questions, much less address them adequately? At the very least, we ought to be interested in hearing God’s plans for dealing with evil in the world and the universal curse of death.

 

The people making the claims – the apostles – were in a position to know what they were talking about. They spent three years with the itinerate rabbi. Yes, Paul himself was an exception to this but he knew Jesus in other ways. Plus, he had opportunity to rub shoulders with the others and test their mettle. As an aggressive and even violent skeptic, he would not have been moved to believe facile arguments.

 

The people who believed the apostles had the means to check out their claims. At the time these letters were written, Jews were still leading the Christian movement; Gentiles were coming along in increasing numbers but weren’t yet calling the shots. More broadly, there were many Jews – believing and unbelieving – in Jerusalem but also many spread all over the Mediterranean world. There were three annual feasts which brought many of them back to Jerusalem. Plus, the Romans seem to have on-again-off-again edicts regarding the Jews which caused even more movement. The result of all this was that there was a great deal of interaction among Jews and thus plenty of opportunities to check and cross-check the stories being told about Jesus. With the primary events in question taking place only 15 to 25 years before there would still have been a lot of living memory to consult. Think of life and death events that happened to people important to your family and friends 15 to 25 years ago. I still remember vividly where I was the day John Kennedy was shot, and he was not nearly as important to me as Jesus was to the many family, friends, and disciples who had actual experiences with Him.

 

Thus there are positive reasons we should take to heart what’s being claimed in these letters: the gospel itself, the apostles who preached it, and those who believed it.

 

 

The Negative Case for Adopting the Faith

 

There are also reasons we ought not disbelieve the historical facts about Jesus found in the seven letters we’ve studied.

 

If I’m going to disbelieve the people of these letters, I need a reason to disbelieve them. If their historical claims about Jesus were false, there are only two ways this could be: they were intentionally lying or they were sincerely deceived.

 

Were they intentionally lying? I can’t figure out why they’d do this. At this time, Christianity was in the minority and largely unknown every place it was taken; and when it was known, it was unpopular, disliked, and distrusted by the majority. These things are true whether we’re talking about Jews or Gentiles. The apostles were subject to persecution at every turn, and rank-and-file believers fared only slightly better. It’s hard enough to get human beings to face persecution for the sake of truth; no one seeks persecution for what he knows is a lie. And, setting aside motive for the moment, that many men, often separated from one another, had no way to keep their stories straight. It was as I described above with respect to the writings, the situation deprived them of the means to pull off such a conspiracy even if they had been a motive to conspire. After a while, your head starts hurting from trying to conceive such inconceivable scenarios.

 

Were they sincerely deceived? This one gives me a headache, too. Peter, John, and the rest of the twelve, brother James, Paul, and others were fooled into believing Jesus was raised from the dead when He really wasn’t? How could that have happened? Who would have done the fooling? I’ve heard some skeptics put forward hallucinations as the explanation. The idea is that, in their grief, the apostles thought they saw Jesus when they really didn’t. I can’t take this idea seriously because I just can’t see that many men independently having grief-induced hallucinations and leaping from that experience to the common and rock-ribbed conviction that Jesus was raised from the dead. It’s hard enough to imagine even one of them going out on such a weak limb. And then there’s that whole “according to the Scriptures” thing that this idea leaves out. On top of all this, Paul was hounding Christians from one city to another and all of a sudden he becomes sincerely deceived into joining their ranks?

 

Thus to disbelieve the apostles requires you to believe that they were intentionally lying or sincerely deceived – both utterly implausible scenarios. At this point you may be thinking, “But, Mike, if you want to talk about implausible, what about resurrection itself?” I’m glad you asked.

 

 

The Rarity of Resurrection

 

Sure, resurrection is uncommon. That’s why the people of the undisputed Paulines were so worked up about it! Jesus’ resurrection was utterly unique. It shocked the ancient mind as much as it shocks the modern mind.

 

Here’s the way I looked at it when I was an agnostic in my late 20’s reading the Bible seriously for the first time, trying to decide whether its message about Jesus and His resurrection was plausible. I figured that if there was no God, then resurrection was counter to nature and therefore implausible, if not impossible. However, if there was a God, then, sure, resurrection was possible. And it would be a function of God’s willingness, not of His ability. For how could God be God and not be able to raise the dead? Thus, as an agnostic, I was able to keep an open mind as I surveyed the testimonies of the people in the New Testament for the first time.

 

As I read, I found that they looked at resurrection just as I did and reacted to the idea just as I would. If no God, no resurrection. If God, what’s the problem? For them, the reality of seeing Jesus alive after He had clearly been dead AND having Him show them in the Scriptures how this very event had been anticipated in so many ways by so many prophets put them in the position of accepting what could not be denied: their Messiah was raised just as God had promised.

 

 

My summation and verdict

 

I find the positive case compelling and the negative case equally compelling. If I’m going to disbelieve the people of the undisputed Paulines, I’m going to have to believe some other group of people. What other group of people would that be?

 

In almost forty years of being open-minded on the subject, I have been able to find no reasonable basis for declaring as false the historical claims about Jesus being made by these people. Therefore, reason requires me to accept their claims as true.

 

Further, I don’t find the views of the people of the undisputed Paulines merely credible – I find them compelling. In fact, I see no other way to even explain the existence of the seven uncontested letters of Paul except that the beliefs to which they attest are true. No other imaginable situation could have produced those letters.

 

Moreover, I can only conclude that the reason more people don’t believe the New Testament is that they don’t read it at all…or else they don’t read it with an open mind. Even the little boy who cried wolf was able to get a whole town to come to check out his claims, not because little boys are known for their credibility, but because the subject matter of his message was so relevant to the well-being of the town. In fact, those folks came out twice without question! I could not hold my head up if I refused to check out – with an open mind – the claims of adults who gave their lives to make known to me and you a matter of the greatest possible importance.

 

My open-minded reading left me no place to turn. I could not deny the overwhelming evidence set before me. This is a faith that deserves – even demands – adoption. I cannot gainsay the evidence. Conscience compels me to live by this faith.

 

 

Your turn: Accept, Reject, or Ignore?

 

Okay, I put my heart on display for you. Now it’s your turn – not to display your heart to me, but to open it up to heaven’s sight. Here again is the biography that the people of the seven letters, and particularly the apostles, believed and promulgated.

 

Jesus – a Jew, descendant of King David, born early first century C.E. and dwelling in Palestine. Regarded as a preacher and practitioner of righteousness by his Jewish followers, he was eventually betrayed and handed over to the Roman authorities, who crucified him. On the third day, He was raised from the dead, appeared multiple times to His disciples over a forty-day period, then ascending to heaven to be seated at the right hand of God, from which He would eventually come in glory on the day of the Lord.

 

Are you prepared to deny it? On what basis do you think they erred? If you’ve read the book to this point, you know there’s no rational basis for denying their account. It’s a matter of history. And you’ve accepted a lot more history on other subjects with a lot less evidence than what has been supplied to you on this subject.

 

I’ve eased the research burden on you by giving you a representative sample of the evidence – seven letters which amount to about 17% of the New Testament, which is about 3% of the whole Bible. Thus I’ve minimized the time that this research will take out of your life. But if you want more evidence than the undisputed Paulines, have at it! It all points in the same direction.

 

What many people do – in lieu of rejecting Jesus outright – is punt. They delay the decision, postpone any conclusion. They kick the can down the road one more time. This is just a way to ignore the truth, downplay it, or even suppress it. I urge you not to give in to this temptation.

 

Yes, accepting this faith might cost you. Accepting it has certainly cost me. But I would pay double what it’s cost me to gain what it’s brought me. The rewards of this faith are infinitely greater than the price any of us have paid.

 

If one reading of this book has not been enough to bring you to conviction, then keep re-reading it until you get there. This is the reason I constructed the chapters and table of contents the way I did – so that you could easily find your way back to the places that speak most to your uncertainty.

 

If you refuse to turn away from this subject until you settle it one way or the other in your mind, your Creator will not fail to engage with you. For he who seeks, finds; and he who asks, receives; and to him who knocks, it shall be opened.

 

 

Unassailable Faith

 

May God develop in you – through your open-mindedness – an unassailable faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep going over the facts until it is so.

 

On what basis will your faith then rest? On the evidence of the undisputed Paulines, backed up by the New Testament of which it is but a part, backed up by the whole of the Bible of which the New Testament is but a part.

 

If we don’t accept the claims about Messiah’s sufferings, which occurred on earth and could be observed by human witnesses, why would we accept claims about His glories, which occur in the realm of heaven, beyond our physical sight? But if we do accept the testimonies about His sufferings, sworn to with the blood of the witnesses, then we are right and wise to seek to know from the prophets behind the Old Testament and the apostles behind the New Testament all that we can know about the glories of this One to whom they testified. In fact, let us join with them in saying…

 

…though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. – 2 Cor 5:16

 

I’m glad I am not there with you as you are reading this. I wouldn’t want to be a distraction. Nor would I want anyone else there with you, for they might be a distraction, too. I hope the only one there with you is the One who can see into the depths of your heart. For if you do find faith, don’t try to impress people with it; rather, strive to impress Him with it.

 

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God…

- Rom 14:22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author

See http://www.mikegantt.com.


Finding Faith: The Historical Jesus in the Undisputed Paulines

Though its title may sound academic, this book is written for anyone wanting evidence for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Drawing on a portion of the New Testament regarded as authentic by the vast majority of both ancient and modern scholars, this book presents the evidence for Jesus in a way that any reader can access. Whether you’ve lost your faith, or you’ve never had it, or even if you have faith but want to be more certain about it, this book will help you.

  • Author: Mike Gantt
  • Published: 2017-05-14 20:50:21
  • Words: 41213
Finding Faith: The Historical Jesus in the Undisputed Paulines Finding Faith: The Historical Jesus in the Undisputed Paulines