THE SOUND OF SILENCE
200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles
1 & 2 CORINTHIANS
ź 40. - 1 Corinthians 1:1
[ Note that his reference to "seeing the Lord" in 1 Corinthians 9:1 and 15:8 is not specified as a conversion experience, and could be referring to a Ďconfirming visioní of the Son Paul received some time after his conversion. Certainly, the visions (1 Cor. 15:5-7) of Peter, James, the 500+ brothers, etc., were not conversion experiences, since these were people who were already believers and apostles. Paul lists his own right after them as though it were of the same nature as the rest. (It could well have been impelled by his need to undergo the same sort of vision as a means of validating himself as an apostle, as 1 Cor. 9:1f would indicate). And he goes on in 15:10 to speak of being "what I am" by the grace of God, not Jesus. Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 12:1, in recounting "visions and revelations granted by the Lord," fails to include any experience resembling the Damascus road legend, let alone refer to the call which led him to become an apostle. ]
ź ó 1 Corinthians 1:7-8 - See "Top 20" #17
ź 41. - 1 Corinthians 1:9
ź 42. - 1 Corinthians 1:18-24(f)
22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God. [NIV]
Paulís statement seems to be one of simple fact: that Christ was crucified. Yet if Jesusí crucifixion had been a recent historical event, its mere occurrence, being a matter of record and public knowledge, would hardly prove a stumbling block or a folly to anyone. The proclaimed significance of that event might be so, but Paul does not suggest that he means it is the interpretation of the crucifixion which is the problem. Nor does he say the problem is that a crucified man is declared to be the Messiahósomething that would indeed affront the average Jew. No, as Paul presents it, it is the doctrine itself that the Messiah was crucified which is being resisted.
Furthermore, the Greek verb is in the perfect tense, a tense which relates more to the ongoing effect in the present than to a simple statement of past occurrence. This is a recurring mode of expression (often simply in the present tense) which represents Christ and his actions as being in the Ďnow,í even as speaking in the now through the sacred writings. All this fits the concept of present revelation by God, of long-secret, higher world truths being disclosed and taking effect at the present time.
Thus Paul is saying that his preaching of a Messiah who is declared to have been crucified has been found unacceptable by those whom he associates with the wisdom of the world. His wisdomóGodís wisdomóis that the Messiah was crucified, and that this is Godís system of salvation. We may conclude, therefore, that Paul is not speaking of a verifiable, historical event, but of a heavenly, spiritual figure who is known only from scripture. Certain Jews and gentiles reject Paulís interpretation of this heavenly Messiahóthat he was crucified (by whom, see next item). This interpretation differs from that of othersóthat he was not crucified. (I would claim that the latter refers to the apostle Apollos, whom Paul has just mentioned. See Supplementary Article No. 1: Apollos of Alexandria and the Early Christian Apostolate for a full discussion of this passage.)
If Paul were preaching Jesus of Nazarethóa crucified manóas the Messiah and Savior, he would discuss it in such terms, especially since in this lengthy passage (extending to 2:10) he is defending his doctrine and defending God for the wisdom of his redemptive scheme. Yet there is not a word in these 24 verses about the human Jesus, about an earthly dimension, about the question of recognizing a crucified criminal as the Son of God and redeemer of the world. Indeed, the elevation of a man to divinity, the turning of an executed subversive into a part of the Godhead, would be, to almost all Jews, a stumbling block of such monumental proportions that it would dwarf any objection they might have to the claim that the Messiah had to undergo crucifixion. Paul is completely silent on the greatest folly of them all.
Instead, Paul 'defines' Christ as "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (v.24). Consistent with everything else he says, he is defining a heavenly figure in terms of spiritual features (in the same way as one might define concepts like the Greek Logos and Jewish personified Wisdom); there is no sign that he is making a statement about a human man.
In verse 22, Paul points out that Jews look for miracles in support of any doctrine about God and salvation. It is strange, then, that he fails to call attention to any of Jesusí Gospel miracles as support for the claim that the crucified man of Nazareth had indeed been Messiah and Savior.
ź 43. - 1 Corinthians 2:7-8
It would seem that Paul locates Jesusí crucifixion in the spiritual realm at the hands of the evil spirits. (Cf. The Ascension of Isaiah, 9:13-14.) Those who acknowledge this meaning for "rulers of this age" sometimes attempt to qualify it by claiming that Paul envisions them working through the human authorities who, according to the Gospels, actually crucified Jesus, but Paul does not say this, and such an idea is nowhere present when we get to the Gospels and human authorities first start to be specified.
ź 44. - 1 Corinthians 2:11-13
[ A better indicator of just how Paul views a role for Christ comes a few lines later. In verse 16, Paul asks, through a quotation from Isaiah 40:13, " ĎFor who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?í But we have the mind of Christ." Prior to this, Paul has been speaking of Godís Spirit. Now he suggests a definition for that Spirit and reveals another aspect of his thoroughly mythological and mystical view of the Son. Paul and other "spiritual men" are gifted with the Spirit, giving them the capacity to know God and the higher truths of the universe. This divine, inbreathed Spirit is "the mind of Christ," making Christ an aspect of God, the communicating, knowledge-bestowing element of God. In other words, the equivalent of Ďhypostasized Wisdom.í This is a reflection of the overriding philosophical concept of the age, that the ultimate God related to the world of matter and humanity through a spiritual subsidiary and intermediary. In Paul, Godís Spirit is moving further along the road to personification.
Paulís concept of possessing the mind of Christ should be viewed in parallel to his mystical ideas about sharing in Christís Ďbodyí, the twoóChrist and the collective believersótogether constituting a mystical Ďbodyí in itself. This is an idea related to the general mystery-cult concept of the age in which the initiate is united in some way with the spiritual substance and fate of the savior god. If Paulís concept of Christís Ďbodyí is acknowledgedóand it usually isóto relate solely to the spiritual nature of the heavenly Christ, then his concept of Christís Ďmindí should also been seen to have no relation to any human embodiment.
Paul only occasionally makes this explicit identification of Godís Spirit with Christ (e.g., Phil. 1:19, Gal. 4:6), for the more general Jewish meaning of the term is still very much a part of his own and his hearersí thinking. Weíll look further at this view of Christ in 2 Corinthians 4:6. ]
ź 45. - 1 Corinthians 4:5
ź 46. - 1 Corinthians 4:11-13
ź 47. - 1 Corinthians 7:29
Whether his readers already knew that Jesus had said things of this nature (and this should not always be taken for granted), the natural impulse for a writer in a situation like this would surely be to throw in the fact that Jesusí own words back up his claim. This is especially true when the subject being discussed is controversial, and when there is an element of persuasion being exercised on the reader to listen, to heed, to accept the idea being put forward. Yet it is precisely in contexts like theseóand consistently soóthat we encounter the lack of any appeal to an historical Jesusí words and deeds.
ź 48. - 1 Corinthians 9:1-2
Even if it be claimedóas it often isóthat Paul ignores such a distinction because he refuses to accept that it should be relevant, you can be sure his opponents would not be so obliging. This distinction is the very thing one could expect they would throw in his face, and he would be forced to address it, like it or not. Besides, it is one thing to ignore something that everyone knows. It is another, as part of that process of ignoring, to cast things in terms which would be recognizably false and misleading, something which others would certainly not let him get away with.
But there is a conclusion to be drawn from this passage which scholars are reluctant to admit. Paul's claim that he too has "seen the Lord" implies that his type of seeing (which few would dispute was entirely visionary) is the same as that of the apostles he is comparing himself to; otherwise, his appeal to his own vision of the Lord as placing himself legitimately within their ranks would be meaningless. And since he goes on in the very next verses to refer to Cephas and "the Lordís brothers" (which can be taken in the sense of members of the sectarian brotherhood in Jerusalem of which James was the head: see my Response to Sean), we are justified in assuming that these are among the apostles he is comparing himself to. Thus the necessary conclusion is that these men too knew the Lord only by this kind of "seeing," namely a visionary one. Cephas and the Lordís brethren and the rest of the apostles knew nothing of a Jesus on earth, which is why we never encounter in Paul any reference to the appointment of apostles by a human Jesus.
ź ó 1 Corinthians 10:11 - See "Top 20" #16
ź 49. - 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Even if the work of Godís Spirit were seen to be operating in the context of a movement begun with Jesus of Nazareth, that Spirit would have been linked in some way to him, as it eventually wasómost dramatically in the Gospel of John, with Jesusí promise to send the Paraclete after his departure from the world. In fact, "John" came up with this concept in order to identify Godís Spirit, hitherto the driving force of the movement, as proceeding from Jesus and being under his direction. As we have seen (1 John 4:1, #15), not even the Johannine epistles introduce the concept of the Paraclete in relation to the competing spirits which are abroad in the apostolic world.
ź 50. - 1 Corinthians 12:28
Paulís language creates a general picture, once again, of a movement formed by the activity of perceived communication from God, both as its original source and its continuing direction. There is not a whisper here of a beginning in an historical Jesus and the impact he is said to have had on the unfolding of the Christian movement.
ź 51. - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
ź 52. - 1 Corinthians 14:36-37
In light of the overwhelming impression contained in the last several items about the Spirit, that the engine of the Christian movement is direct revelation, or "reception" from God of the truths of the gospel message, the next itemóthe crucial passage of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8óallows for an interpretation which is quite different from that regularly given.
ź 53. - 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
The first, following on the previous several items concerning the work of the Spirit, is that the verb "received" in the opening verse above must be taken in the sense of personal revelation, and not passed-on tradition through human channels from others. Not only does Paul show no sign anywhere else of receiving "apostolic tradition" in the sense of a gospel about Jesus which has come from those who supposedly knew him, he denies any such thing quite vehemently, namely in Galatians 1:11-12 where he states that he received his gospel "from no man, but from a revelation of/about Jesus Christ."
If verse 3ís "received" thus refers to personal revelation, this has two immediate effects. The first is that the elements he states in his gospel, Jesusí death, burial and rising, are not likely to refer to historical events. If all three were the subject of eyewitness and historical record (at least from the Christian point of view), it would be more than faintly ludicrous for Paul to refer to knowledge of these things as coming to him through personal revelation. Second, he in fact tells us where he got such information: from the scriptures. Although kata tas graphas is regularly interpreted as meaning "in fulfilment of the scriptures" (an idea Paul nowhere discusses), it can just as readily entail the meaning of "as the scriptures tell us," and this fits the entire presentation of scripture in the early Christian epistles as the source of knowledge about the Christ, and even as the repository of Christís own voice.
As I discuss in Article 6, the verb used for the "appearings" is regularly found in the context of personal visionary experience. And since Paul includes his own at the end of the list in such a way as to suggest that the nature of his experience is the same as all the rest, this leads to the conclusion that the itemized sightings of Jesus by the Jerusalem people refer similarly to perceived visionary experiences. This means that there is no necessary temporal connection between verse 3-4ís death, burial and rising, and the series of visions. The former is the stated gospel about the Christís redemptive acts in the spiritual realm, information which is derived from scripture. Both the gospel and the appearances are things which Paul has formerly "passed on," in the sense of told about, to the Corinthians, and about which he is reminding them here. The "received" idea applies only to the elements of the gospel. (See Article No. 6 for a full discussion of all these points.)
The other major silence to be addressed here is that this account of the appearances of Jesus does not fit the Gospel one. The latter, of course, is not a unified account, and in fact contains many contradictory elements between the various evangelistsónot the least being the fact that the earliest Gospel, Mark, has no appearances of Jesus at all, while the later Gospels become ever more complex in their picture of the risen Jesusí activities. But what they all contain is something which Paul breathes not a word of: the first presence at the tomb, and the first sighting in all the later Gospels, being that of certain women. Where in all the early Christian epistles is there anything about Mary Magdalene and other women who were privileged to be the first to receive the message about the resurrection and even the first sighting (in Matthew and John) of Christís risen state? As for Paulís definite statement that Peter was the first to see the risen Jesus, not one Gospel agrees with him.
ź ó 1 Corinthians 15:12-16 - See "Top 20" #9
ź 54. - 1 Corinthians 15:45-49
The basic point Paul is making throughout this part of the chapter is that human beings will undergo resurrection by taking on a new and different "resurrection body" whose nature will not be earthly flesh and blood. This resurrection body will be modeled on that of Christ, which verse 47 says is made of "heavenly material." The problem is, Paul fails to make any distinction between Christís human body which he possessed during his time on earth, and the new body he possesses in heaven after his resurrection. This is a distinction which absolutely must be made, since the former cannot serve as the model. Paul would have to specify that he is speaking of Christís body after his resurrection from the dead. In fact, all sorts of problems would result in Paulís discourse here by his silence on any such distinction. He makes no reference at all to Christís earthly body.
Commentators often present their interpretation of this passage as though Paul does indeed specify that he is spreaking of the risen body of Jesus, or is at least implying it. But even a cursory reading shows that Paul is silent on any such thing. Another way of looking at this silence is to point out that, in seeking to convince his readers that humans can be resurrected into another, spiritual body, he fails to draw on the obvious example of Jesus himself, whose human body was supposedly resurrected into a spiritual one. (Paul, by the way, shows no sign of regarding Jesusí Ďresurrectedí state as being "in flesh," and in fact his language rules out any such thing. This means that he and the Gospels, with their presentation of a Christ resurrected in a physical form, differ dramatically.)
Paulís use of the term "man" in relation to Christ cannot simply be assumed to refer to his human state, for this too would create difficulties for, and even stand in contradiction to, the things he says about Christ and his heavenly body. In fact, the term "man" can be taken in any of a number of mythological ways, fitting the hellenistic and apocalyptic outlooks of the time, as for example in Philo of Alexandria's "Heavenly Man." (See Article No. 8 for a full discussion of these questions.)
ź 55. - 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 / 5:5
Compare also 2 Corinthians 5:5: "God himself has shaped us for this very end; and as a pledge of it he has given us the Spirit."
The two passages above could well have been included in the "Top 20," for there is a silence here which is nothing short of profound. We have God the prime mover and source of what it is to be Christian, God the one to whom Paul and his fellow believers feel the primary connection. Christian faith looks ahead to the promise of the future, and what does it see as the pointer to that promise? The life of Jesus? His sacrifice on Calvary? No, the giving of the Spirit, the inspiration which Paul and others feel has been given to them in conceiving and promulgating their gospel message. That is the mark of Godís seal. As the embodiment and guarantee of Godís promise of eternal life, he has sentónot Jesus, not the incarnated Son, but the Spirit, the inspiration accorded to Paul and his fellow apostles of the Christ.
Only a complete void on any knowledge of an historical Jesus could have led Paul to express himself in this fashion. Looking backwards, he sees the promise of salvation to be achieved at the imminent Kingdom as having had its first Ďinstallment,í its Ďpledge,í in the sending of the Spirit, not Jesus of Nazareth. The movement began not with an historical figure but with the coming of Godís Spirit. Paul and the other epistle writers say this over and over, but probably nowhere so clearly as in this passage.
[ The use of the phrase "in Christ" in verse 22 can now be seen for what it is. Christ is part of that "sending of the Spirit," for the inspired gospel found in the prophets (see Romans 1:1-4, 16:25-27, etc.) has brought Godís word about him and about the mystical relationship which humanity is now to have with him as Lord and Savior. Like the Greek Logos concept, Christ is Godís emanation, his subsidiary agent and communicating aspect. As mediator between God and the world, he is the shadow God casts, or rather the light he casts, for God, in the view of the philosophers, could not be seen, could not be touched. He was made visible to the intellectual eye, he made himself known to the material world, through secondary aspects. Those aspects had characteristics of their ownóand roles to play in salvation. Godís Spirit, or the Holy Spirit (alternatively, the concept of Wisdom in the scribal tradition) was the principal Jewish way of defining that communicating force. Paul represents a thought movement which has personalized this force to a new stage, that of a Son, a Savior, the bringer of the Kingdom when he arrives at the imminent End. Paul and the early Christians regard faith in this newly-revealed Son as Godís method of salvation. One of the driving religious ideas of the age, as reflected in the developing mystery cults, was that of association with a divinity whose nature one could share in and whose saving activities involved paradigmatic parallels which effected certain guarantees for the initiate. Since such relationships were not possible with the ultimate God, subsidiary divinities were needed. For the particularly Jewish sectarian expression (highly Hellenistic in some of its influences) which Paul represents, that divinity was the Son, Christ Jesus, found in scripture. ]
ź 56. - 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 / 8-9
Paul goes on to speak of the splendor (glory) in the face of Moses, reflecting the divine splendor, at the inauguration of the old covenant:
ź 57. - 2 Corinthians 4:4-6
In 1 Corinthians 2:11-13, Paul spoke of the "mind" of Christ, which gives knowledge of the mind of God. Here, he is a "face," ultimately Godís face. In neither passage is any reference made to the human career of Christ, and in fact verse 4 above shows that Paulís gospel is about the Son, who is defined as "the image of God." This is a Logos-type motif, entirely spiritual and mythological, and having nothing to do with earthly incarnation.
The phrase "light of the knowledge" is literally "the enlightenment of the knowledge," which is simply another way to describe the process of revelation. God has revealed himself through the intermediary Christ, a process which takes place "in the heart," further supporting the idea of revelation. If Paul knew of a Jesus on earth who had revealed God in his own person and ministry, he would have phrased things entirely differently.
ź 58. - 2 Corinthians 4:13-14
ź 59. - 2 Corinthians 5:6-7
ź 60. - 2 Corinthians 5:17-20
The "through Christ," as weíve seen in items 55 and 56, is representative of the spiritual Christ acting as the channel between God and man. What it does not signify is an earthly incarnation, for Paul expressly assigns the "ministry of reconciliation" to himself, with not even a suggestion that Jesus in his ministry played at least an equally significant role. The same combination is repeated in verse 19:
[ The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VIII, p.513, regards the first part of verse 20 this way: "As a preacher of the gospel the apostle is an authorized transmitter of the divine message and hence a representative of Christ. The urgent call of the apostle as he invites men to believe is thus a call which the exalted Christ Himself issues." Thus Paul speaks "on behalf of Christ" in heaven: pointing to his understanding of the Son as a spiritual mediator and channel to God. ]
ź ó 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 - See "Top 20" #8
ź 61. - 2 Corinthians 9:10
ź 62. - 2 Corinthians 10:7-8 / 11:22-23 / 12:11-12
In verse 7 above, Paul claims to be on an equal footing with the rival apostles who have undermined his position at Corinth. We donít know exactly who those rivals were, but any question of appealing to connections going back to a Jerusalem group who had known Jesus, or to Jesus himself, nowhere appears. Verse 8 rules such a thing out, for Paul speaks of authority which comes from the Lord, which here means God. Such a meaning is indicated, not only by Paulís general focus on God as the source of his call to apostleship, but by the comment he makes in 10:13, that an apostleís sphere of work is "laid down by God" to "preach the gospel about Christ." He speaks of being "recommended by the Lord" (10:18).
Two related passages in the following chapters again have Paul showing no knowledge of a distinction among apostles on the basis of having known and been appointed by Jesus in the flesh. In 11:22-23, he says:
[ What picture of the early Christian apostolate is Paul presenting here? In these chapters, Paul is not making a comparison between himself and the Jerusalem group. He does have disputes with Peter and company (notably in Galatians 2), and there too he fails to acknowledge any distinction between them and himself. But where the Corinthians are concerned, he is dealing with a wider world of apostleship, with rivals to whom he rarely puts a name, and whose challenges have nothing to do with any personal claims of contact with Jesus of Nazareth or, for that matter, with the Jerusalem apostles.
Scholars often claim that such competing apostles, even if they are not to be identified with "the Twelve," are nevertheless from Judea and have been sent out by the Jerusalem group; that the letters they bear (see 2 Cor. 3:1) are letters of authorization from them. If this were so, they could hardly have failed to argue this, forcing Paul to address such authorization in the defense of his own position. Other scholars suggest that in fact Paul is defending himself against the Jerusalem apostles in 2 Corinthians 10-12. The phrase "these superlative apostles" in 11:5 and 12:11 is, they say, an obvious reference to Peter and company. But in 11:13-15, Paul turns on these same men the full force of his ire:
C. K. Barrett (Second Epistle to the Corinthians) tries a compromise which doesnít work: the "superlative apostles" (11:5 and 12:11) refer to the Peter group, and the "sham-apostles" (11:13) are an unnamed set of rivals who have invaded his Corinthian flock. But Paul in this passage shows no sign of switching from one to the other, nor does Barrett offer any rationalization for him doing so which makes sense. Clearer-headed commentators acknowledge that nowhere in this passage is any link made between Paulís rivals in Corinth and the Jerusalem church.
We are thus faced with a picture of a Christian apostolic movement operating in the Diaspora which neither possesses nor claims any connection to a privileged group of apostles in Jerusalem, and certainly not to a human Jesus of Nazareth through such a group. No matter who Paul is dealing with, the Petrine group or otherwise, no hint of a human Jesus to whom apostles trace their authority can be detected. (For a fuller discussion of the question of apostleship, see Supplementary Article No. 1: Apollos of Alexandria and the Early Christian Apostolate.) ]
ź 63. - 2 Corinthians 11:4
If in Paulís world no one appeals to a connection with Jesus of Nazareth or with those who had known him, what is the authority on which each apostleís claim rests? We saw it in the epistle 1 John 4:1f (see "Top 20", #15), and we see it here in Paulís admonishment of the fickle Corinthians:
Such extreme language can hardly refer, as some commentators maintain, to differences surrounding the application of the Jewish Law. This is the picture of fundamentally contrasting interpretations of the Christ himself, which could not have arisen within the context of the orthodox Gospel picture of an apostolic movement begun and coordinated from a group of Twelve followers of Jesus operating out of Jerusalem. It makes sense only in the context of a faith system spread over much of the empire whose proponents, like Paul, have derived their ideas from scripture and the going philosophies of the day. These various and rival apostles of the Christ, none of whom make any connection with a Jerusalem parent body let alone Jesus himself, are part of a level playing field. Each apostle, like Paul, makes his own claim to veracity and authority based on personal inspiration and calling by God. The engine of the early Christian movement is not the memory of Jesus, his words and deeds kept alive and transmitted through a channel of witnesses and those in turn whom they have instructed and authorized. Rather, it is the spirit of God bestowed individually on Christian prophets, the chosen recipients of revelation from the Father. Such a picture is clearly presented by the epistle writers at every turn.
To File No. 5: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians
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