Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

200 Missing References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles



Those seeking to discredit the Jesus-as-myth interpretation invariably appeal to a handful of passages in the epistles which would seem to support a human view of Jesus. "Of David's stock," "sprung from Judah," "born of woman," the occasional use of "anthrôpos" ("man") and the terms "blood" and "flesh," along with a few other miscellaneous items, are placed on the opposite side of the scale in the expectation that these can counter-balance the vast silence on the Gospel Jesus and events which the Sound of Silence has outlined, and tip the weight in favor of a human Jesus present in the minds of the early epistle writers.

The first thing to notice is that none of these things relate in any direct way to the Gospel character, none of them make reference to specific Gospel events, none locate the figure they refer to in any specific time and place. They are features associated with the Christ being preached by writers like Paul, and if they can be interpreted in alternate ways—such as being dependent on scripture or in keeping with Platonic philosophy—this removes them from any necessity to be applied to a recent human man.

(This is in addition to the three "historical" passages I have regularly addressed as a separate category. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is a widely accepted interpolation about "[the Jews] who killed the Lord Jesus," 1 Timothy's reference to Pilate in 6:13 is contained within a second century piece of writing but may also be an interpolation, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul's words of Jesus at the "Lord's Supper," can be interpreted as a mythical scene, one which may have given rise to the Gospel episode. These three will also be included below.)

Almost all of the passages itemized here have been covered to some extent either in the Sound of Silence proper or in various Supplementary Articles. Where that is the case, I will often give only a summary of the argument to be made, and refer the reader to the item or article where fuller discussion can be found. On the other hand, where important issues are concerned, as in the case of a term like "flesh" (as in kata sarka), I will make an extended review of the evidence, and even add new material not found elsewhere. In the case of certain terms, I will combine into one item the principal passages where each one appears and address them collectively. In the interests of preserving a continuous discussion of related subjects, the order of the items will not always conform to canonical order.

1. Romans 1:3

[...the Gospel of God, which he announced beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures], the gospel concerning his Son who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh (kata sarka) . . .
In the "Romans" file, #21, I pointed out that this passage involves a curious silence, in that Paul is saying that God's gospel in the prophets announced not the life of Jesus itself but the gospel about him which Paul proclaims. No life of Jesus seems to have intervened between the prophets' forecast and the discovery of that gospel in scripture by Paul.

And what of the reference to Christ being of David's stock? Paul says that he got this information from the prophets. It was part of God's gospel about his Son, as announced in the sacred writings. The scriptures, of course, contained several passages prophesying some future king and anointed one who would be descended from David, and they had to be applied to any belief in a Christ/Messiah, no matter what his nature. Paul makes no reference here to an historical tradition, nor is any link made with a recent human man. This is a feature which Paul has given the Son because of those passages from scripture. Can such a feature be applied to a spiritual Son in heaven, at least in minds like Paul's?

Considering that Platonic philosophy envisioned that all things on earth were copies of primary archetypes in heaven, the answer is yes. Even Jewish thought contained the idea that elements on earth mirrored ones in heaven, such as the earthly temple and the earthly Jerusalem having heavenly counterparts, or the righteous saints on earth having a heavenly paradigm and champion in the person of the Messiah and Son of Man who appears in the Similitudes of Enoch (indicating that some Jews did have a concept of a spiritual Messiah). Thus it was very possible for Paul to envision his heavenly Son and Christ as one who bore a spiritual relationship to David—even if he may not have fully understood how.

The fullest discussion of the Romans 1:1-4 passage can be found in Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as an Historical Person? See also No. 5 below for a discussion of the use of the term "flesh" as in verse 3's kata sarka.

2. Romans 3:24-25 ("blood")

. . . (all) are freely justified by his [God's] grace through his redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation, through faith in his blood [i.e., his sacrificial death]. . .
. . . plus other references to Jesus' "blood" sacrifice, as in:
Ephesians 1:7, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 2:14 and chapters 8 & 9
Some of the myths of the Greek savior gods involved the concept of dying and sacrifice, including references to blood. Rituals and sacred meals of these cults made reference to the blood of the god (or in the case of Mithras, that of the bull he slew). This "blood" was not regarded as historical or earthly, and neither need we view that of Christ in the thinking of the earliest Christians. That blood could be spiritual and function in the upper world can be seen in the elaborate theology of the Epistle to the Hebrews, in which (chapters 8 and 9) Christ as High Priest makes a sacrifice of his own blood in the heavenly sanctuary, with no reference to a shedding of blood on earth, let alone on Calvary.

3. Romans 5:15 (Christ as man, "anthrôpos")

For if the many died by the trespass of the one man [referring to Adam], how much more did God's grace and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many.
. . . plus 1 Corinthians 15:21:
For since by a man [no verb] death, by a man also [no verb] the resurrection of the dead.
. . . plus 1 Corinthians 15:47:
The first man [Adam] was of the earth, the second man [Christ] is of the heavenly.
. . . plus 1 Timothy 2:5:
For there is one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus, himself man. [NEB]
The reference in 1 Timothy can be regarded as based on the Pauline precedent. The Pauline comparison between Adam and Christ, spanning two epistles, is designed to contrast the "man" who brought sin into the world and the "man" who has taken it away. Paul is making an antithetical or "type-antitype" comparison. He needs to present a counterpart relationship. There is no need to regard the two "anthrôpos" elements as identical in nature, and in fact the salvation system of the mystery cult ethos requires that one be spiritual, the other material. Can a divine being be referred to as "Man"? In Hellenistic philosophy this is certainly the case. For example, consider Philo's discussion of "Heavenly Man":

"There are two kinds of men. The one is Heavenly Man, the other earthly. The Heavenly Man being in the image of God has no part in corruptible substance, or in any earthly substance whatever; but the earthly man was made of germinal matter which the writer [of Genesis] calls "dust." For this reason he does not say that the Heavenly Man was created, but that he was stamped with the image of God, whereas the earthly man is a creature and not the offspring of the Creator." (From Allegorical Interpretation of the Law)

Look closely at 1 Corinthians 15:47, quoted above. Similar to Philo, Paul makes a clear distinction in nature between Adam, who is made of "earthly" material, and Christ who is made of "heavenly" material. He has already noted (verse 46) his basic contrast between the physical and the spiritual, between Adam and Christ. Following that sequence—meant to parallel the resurrection of the (human) body—he declares that the order is the physical body first, then the spiritual. Adam is physical, Christ is spiritual, and the latter will be the prototype for the resurrected bodies of men and women. Nowhere does Paul specify that the spiritual body of Christ he has in mind is the one he assumed after his resurrection, or when he reached heaven. That is always read into the meaning, or even into the translation (as in most translations of verse 45). Paul's two sorts of "man" are clearly not the same.

Note the earlier 15:21. Here translators tend to fill in verbs which are Gospel-oriented, assigning the second man (Christ) to the past, as in "for since by a man came death, by a man also came resurrection of the dead." But the following verse points to a future effect, and we may read the second phrase of verse 21 as lacking any past association: "by a man also will come (or has come, now) resurrection of the dead." Paul conveys no identifiable sense that this second man, in contrast to Adam, belongs to earth or to past history.

For a full discussion of these "anthrôpos" passages in Paul, see Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man". See also the "1 & 2 Corinthians" file, #54.

4. Romans 8:3 ("send" / "likeness")

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.
The concept that the Son had been "sent" into the world is common in the epistles, just as we find the same idea applied to the Holy Spirit which has been sent to inspired apostles, as in 1 Peter 1:12. (That "sending" of the Spirit is also promised by Jesus in the Gospel of John.) Early Christians believed that the newly-revealed Christ was now present within themselves and was manifesting himself through them. (Compare the idea of "in Christ" which Paul regularly expresses: see "1 & 2 Corinthians" #55.) In Galatians 4:4-6, Paul says that God has sent his Son, but then clarifies that "sending" by stating (the same verb) that God has sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts (verse 6; see "Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians" #69). On Galatians 4:4-6, see below, No. 11).

The idea of "likeness" is a key element here. This is a recurring concept in the early Christian record. Philippians 2:6-11, a christological hymn, says three times in succession that Jesus, a divine entity in heaven who shared God's own nature, took on the form/fashion/likeness of a man. Never does the epistolary record say directly that he became a man, much less that he led a life on earth, or give us details of such a life. Consider the (probably) late 1st century Jewish/Christian The Ascension of Isaiah. In 9:13, as part of Isaiah's vision in the seventh heaven, he is told of the future descent of the Son through the layers of heaven, he "who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man." Here the clear implication is that he will not be. And who is "they"? Not the earthly authorities of Pilate and Herod, but "the god of that world," meaning Satan who, together with his evil angels, "will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is." Compare Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 2:8 that the "the rulers of this age" were unaware they were crucifying "the Lord of glory." Most liberal scholars acknowledge that "the rulers of this age" refers to the demon spirits, who were seen as inhabiting the lowest celestial sphere. Clearly, the "likeness" idea does not have a meaning of "identical" but of "similarity" (see also below), and this fits the concept of savior gods who descend toward the material levels of the universe and take on ever more material-like and human-like forms (though they do not physically enter matter itself). Such ideas about descending redeemers were a feature of Hellenistic mythology, and are found in such philosophers as Julian and Sallustius. On all these points, see Supplementary Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus?

We might also consider a very revealing passage in the Odes of Solomon. Ode 7 contains these verses:

He [God] has generously shown himself to me in his simplicity,
because his kindness has diminished his grandeur.

He became like me that I might receive him.
In form [or essence, image] that I might put him on.

Like my nature he became, that I might understand him.

The Odist does not introduce any historical Jesus figure here; it is God himself who undergoes this transformation. While there is no death or sacrifice involved, nor a heavenly descent, these ideas fit the concept of a deity revealing himself by 'taking on' a different form, one "like" that of humans so that the latter can better understand and relate to him. Here the image is simply poetic; God reveals himself through concepts which the human mind can grasp. In the Odes as a whole, that process is portrayed as taking place through revelatory emanations of God, styled—with strong Wisdom characteristics—as the Son, the Word, the Beloved. In Ode 11:11 the Odist says that he has put on God "like a garment." None of these images are identified with an historical Jesus. The "diminishing of his grandeur" of Ode 7 (above) implies that such a process is a compromising of God's ultimate and unknowable nature as pure spirit, in order to become knowable, and to this we can compare the more graphic idea of a heavenly descent such as is found in the descending redeemer context. (For a full analysis of this fascinating and revealing document, see Supplementary Article No. 4: The Odes of Solomon.)

For a closer consideration of the use of the term "flesh" see next item.

5. Romans 9:5 ("flesh" / "kata sarka")

From them [referring to the "people of Israel"] (are) the patriarchs, and from them the Christ according to the flesh (kata sarka), who is God overall, blessed forever [or, who is overall, God be blessed forever].
Before bringing in other examples of the use of the term "flesh," note the similarity here with Romans 1:3 (above, No. 1), in the use of the phrase "kata sarka" and its application to a concept of ethnic lineage, the former identified with David, the latter with the Jewish race.

It is first of all not unusual that a god be accorded an ethnic identity. The Hellenistic savior deity Osiris was identified as Egyptian. Gods such as Dionysos and Attis were given close associations with their peoples of origin, as were many others in ancient mythology. In the case of David, many biblical passages identified the expected Messiah as his descendent, and this could not be ignored even when the earliest faith was a belief only in a spiritual Son and Christ. Any savior figure, human or spiritual, growing out of the Jewish tradition, could probably not fail to be identified with that racial group. (See also Galatians 4:4, with its "born (coming into being) under the Law"—No. 11.)

In any case, the idea of a spiritual divinity who was a paradigm or champion for a group on earth, guaranteeing them rebirth and resurrection after death—in the pattern of 'likeness' which Paul describes in Romans 6:5—had to possess parallel characteristics. That is how the system of salvation in the cultic philosophy worked. Initiates entered into union with the god and underwent what he underwent; they shared in counterpart features and experiences. Moreover, Platonic philosophy declared that everything on earth was an imperfect copy of primary expressions in heaven. The upper world and its features were the "genuine" part of the universe; the material world was its mirror. All these factors could combine to produce features of the spiritual, mythical Christ in the minds of people like Paul which to our ears have a human and historical sounding character. They could create a picture of a mythical world which possessed earthly features and savior gods who acted within that world. And they could especially do so when they were also dependent on scriptural passages, such as we see in the case of Galatians 4:4's "born of woman" (see No. 11).

Now to the question of the term "flesh" as in the frequent stereotyped phrases, en sarki, kata sarka, etc. I have dealt with this at length in Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man" and in my Response to Pete in Reader Feedback 14. To summarize those ideas: just as it has been demonstrated that "blood" can be spoken of in a spiritual world context, and that the higher sphere contained heavenly counterparts to earthly features (particularly in a paradigmatic relationship with human believers), there should be no impediment to placing the concept of "flesh" as applied to Christ in the same setting, especially in view of the idea of descent on the part of savior gods to levels which were regarded as resembling the human and material. In fact, a commentator such as C. K. Barrett leans toward translating kata sarka as "in the sphere of the flesh." The demonic spirit powers who inhabited the air or "firmament" between the earth and the moon, the lowest celestial level, were regarded as belonging to the realm of flesh (see The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, VII, p.128) and they were thought of as in some way corporeal, though they possessed 'heavenly' versions of earthly bodies (op.cit., p.143). In certain contexts, the idea of kata sarka may entail the impact Christ has on the world of flesh and humans.

To quote in summary a paragraph from Reader Feedback 14: "Everywhere that an epistle writer uses a phrase about Jesus' nature or redeeming acts involving the word 'sarx' we can suggest that he is speaking of that point or state of contact or similarity between the spiritual and the material. In other words, the god has moved into the sphere or state of being which can react on the flesh, on humans and their salvation. Since philosophers like Julian speak very vividly of the graded higher world, whose spheres ever degrade as they descend toward, and start to affect, matter, and of gods moving down those spheres (compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9 and 10), we have a reasonable—if alien to our way of thinking— explanation for this pervasive manner of speaking among early Christian writers who never manage to place Jesus firmly on earth." Thus the terms most frequently used, kata sarka and en sarki, may use the word sarx to signify the world of humans (which includes the realm of the evil spirits who control it), but Christ is being described in that relationship he bears to the fleshly world of humans, in that spirit-matter dichotomy central to Platonic philosophy.

The other important locations in the epistles (beyond the three in Romans listed above) where the term "sarx" is used—and we can make a few further observations on them—are:

Ephesians 2:14-16:

For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. [RSV]
This is a highly mystical and even obscure passage. In 1:9-10, Ephesians has expressed a related idea: "For he [God] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth." Here Christ is a force or entity through which heaven and earth will be united. This reflects a concept of the period that heaven and earth were sundered, kept apart by the forces of evil in the lower heavens. Christ's death has served to restore that unity, to bring about the destruction of the evil forces that divide the universe. (Compare Colossians 2:15, and those passages noted above in 1 Corinthians 2:8 and the Ascension of Isaiah in which the identity of Christ is kept hidden from the demon spirits, so that they will proceed unwittingly with the sacrificial act which will ensure their destruction.)

Verses 2:14-16 convey the companion idea (and we will see it carried further in 2:17) that Christ will bring about a unification between a divided humanity, namely between Jew and gentile. The use of "in his flesh" (en tei sarki autou) in verse 14 conveys the idea of "in his person," within that context described earlier in which Christ enters the "sphere of flesh" in order to fulfill his redemptive purposes. "Creating in himself one new man in place of two" (verse 15) is reminiscent of Paul's earlier doctrine about the collective "body" formed by Christ and his believers—Christ the head, the church the limbs—another mystical idea which hardly has in mind a Christ in human form. This "new man," as well as the "one body" which unites Jew and gentile (verse 16) must be regarded as spiritual in nature, the expression once again of a highly mystical idea. We will look at other uses of the term "body" below (Colossians 1:22 and Hebrews 10:5).

Colossians 1:22:

(And you . . . ) he [God] has now reconciled in his body of flesh (en toi somati tes sarkos autou) by his death [that of Christ], in order to present you holy and blameless before him . . .
One can sympathize with G. A. Wells' opinion that the concepts at the heart of the Pauline epistles are, for the most part, "unintelligible." Modern commentators either gloss over passages like this, failing to attempt any precise analysis of their meaning, or they try to twist and push them into some semblance of relevance for the modern mind. One thing is clear: these ideas are quite alien to us, based on modes of thinking and views of reality that are, or should be, no longer meaningful or sustainable within today's rational, scientific universe. The writer of this epistle has just emerged from a christological hymn (1:15-20) which presents a cosmic picture of the Son almost unparalleled in the New Testament. He is the image of God, he has primacy over all created things. Through him everything in heaven and earth was created, including the great ranks of spiritual powers good and evil. He is pre-existent and the very universe is held together through him. As in Ephesians, it is through the Son that the sundered chaos of the universe is reconciled to God, creating "peace" and unity through a blood sacrifice; so too are sinners reconciled to God. Yet nowhere in these epistles is this boundless unifying and redemptive force placed on earth or identified with a given human man. To descend from this cosmic setting to the hill of Calvary simply on the basis of the lonely word "flesh" or "body," especially within such mystical contexts, is, rather than a leap of faith, a tumble into the naïve and absurd.

The writer (representing himself as Paul) goes on in verse 24 to contrast his own human nature with that of Christ, a passage which the NEB wisely translates this way: "This is my way of helping to complete, in my poor human flesh, the full tale of Christ's afflictions still to be endured, for the sake of his body which is the church." [NEB]

Here, the pseudo-Pauline writer makes a distinction between his "human" flesh and the "body" of Christ, which he defines as "the church," similar to the genuine Pauline concept pointed out earlier. This is a clear pointer to the two types of context for the word "flesh," a human and a spiritual one, to the mystical and mythological nature of all this language. Compare Ephesians 1:22-23, ". . . and gave him [Christ] as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Christ is portrayed once again as a cosmic force, filling the church, which comprises his "body."

1 Timothy 3:16:

He who was manifested in flesh / Vindicated in [or by] the Spirit / Beheld by angels / Was preached among the nations / Was believed in throughout the world / Taken up in glory. . . .
In "1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus" #104, I pointed out that this little hymn has no specific reference to a life on earth, no glimmer of the character of Jesus of Nazareth. He was preached, but not said to have preached. He was seen by angels, but not by humans.

The "en sarki" (in flesh) of the opening line may be understood as a revelation of the Son within the sphere of the flesh (that is, to humanity), or as a reference to his mythological operations within the lower, accessible portion of the universe through which gods came in contact with, and revealed themselves to, the material world.

Hebrews 2:14:

Since, then, the children [believers given to Christ by God] have flesh and blood, he [Christ] in like manner (paraplêsiôs) shared these things, so that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Again we encounter the principle of "likeness" and paradigmatic counterpart. In order to dissolve the power of Satan and death, Christ must conquer it through his own death. In order to undergo that death, he must 'take on' a nature which can experience it, a relation to flesh and blood. Most of the savior gods saved through their conquest of death; these had myths which described suffering and death in human-like terms. Yet no one regarded these experiences as historical, as having taken place on earth, and certainly not recently. Such 'flesh and blood' existed in the realm of the mythical and spiritual, though in the lower part of that realm, since the higher levels of heaven, where God dwelled, were pure spirit.

The key word in this passage is paraplêsiôs, "in like manner." Does this word mean "identical"? No, it means "similar, resembling, near to." (This is fortunate for Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:27, for if his illness had been "identical" to death, Paul would be writing an obituary and not praising God for his colleague's recovery.) When we compare the emphasis in the Ascension of Isaiah 9 on the spirits only "thinking" that Christ "is flesh and a man" (see above No. 4), we can see a tendency to regard Christ as not fully partaking in a world and nature which is identical to the one humans share.

Hebrews 5:7:

In the days of his flesh [en tais hêmerais tês sarkos autou] he offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears . . .
Has the writer of this epistle placed Jesus on earth in this passage? Or does this verse indicate yet another way of viewing the mythical Christ and learning of his activities? What in fact are the activities which this verse assigns to Jesus' "days in flesh"? Not earthly words or deeds, nor any Gospel-based piece of historical data. Rather, as scholars have pointed out (Ellingworth, Montefiore, Buchanan), the words refer to two passages in the Psalms. This is only one of several writers in the early Christian record who seem to regard Christ as one who 'lives' only in scripture-revealed myth.

For a discussion of why this passage does not fit the Gospel account of Gethsemane, see "Hebrews" #122, and Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven: The Son in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

1 Peter 3:18:

He [Christ] was put to death in (the) flesh [sarki, a simple dative], made alive in/by (the) spirit [pneumati].
The ever-present dichotomy of early Christian soteriology: Christ dies in flesh, he rises in spirit. (Not, we might note, rising in a physical body on earth and appearing to his disciples). This is a capsule summary of the descending-ascending redeemer principle. The god must descend to a state where he can undergo suffering and death. He then ascends—"rises" or, in Jesus' case, is "led up" by God—to the highest divine level, reassuming his former pure spirit nature and his seat beside God's throne. He enters the realm/sphere of flesh (which includes that of the demon spirits), taking on lower forms and capacities, performs his act of salvation, then returns to the realm/sphere of spirit and God.

We may certainly ask why it is that these epistle writers, when speaking of the activities of Jesus, never give us an unmistakable reference to a life on earth. Why do they all choose to use such stilted, obscure language? Why is that language so consistent, so universal, using stereotyped terms? Clearly, these are philosophical concepts to fit mythical circumstances, and considering that they conform so well to the Middle Platonism of the era, we should have no trouble in deciding how to interpret them.

1 Peter 4:1:

Therefore, since Christ suffered in (the) flesh [sarki], arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. [NASB]
The other philosophical concept of the period, the basis of the mystery cult soteriology, was one of paradigmatic parallel, discussed above (compare Hebrews 2:14). The features and experiences of the savior god must mirror those of the devotee, and vice-versa in the matter of guaranteed salvation. We on earth have suffered in the flesh. The god too must suffer in the 'flesh' (the state he assumes when he descends toward the realm of matter). This need would eventually bring the savior, in the case of Christianity, onto the material earth and into a literal flesh (though some were to resist this trend and give rise to docetism). But in earliest Christianity, it could be fulfilled in the concept of the god's descent to a level of the universe where he could take on and undergo counterpart elements to human features and experiences. The above verse is a relationship of "likeness," similar to Paul's doctrine in Romans 6:5: "For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection."

2 Corinthians 5:16:

Proper translations of this verse (probably the most noted example of kata sarka) actually lift it out of the category of an arguable reference to an historical Jesus. "Just as from now on we know no man according to the flesh [kata sarka] so too, even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, we do so no longer." Compare the NEB translation: ". . .if (worldly standards) once counted in our understanding of Christ, they do so now no longer."

Among others, C. K. Barrett (Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p.170-1) recognizes that the second "according to the flesh" does not describe an attribute of Christ, but Paul's action of "knowing." And thus "the view, based on a false interpretation of this verse, that Paul had no interest in the Jesus of history, must be dismissed." It is the attitude of humans toward other humans, and toward Christ, which has been filtered through "the flesh"—their own. Thus Christ as an entirely spiritual figure remains unaffected.

6. Hebrews 10:5 ("body")

We have already seen several examples of Paul speaking of "heavenly bodies" and of Christ's "body" in a spiritual and mystical sense (1 Corinthians 15:40-49, Colossians 1:24, Ephesians 1:23 and 2:16). And the term "body" has been dealt with in a few cases in association with "flesh." But the most striking use of "sôma" comes in Hebrews 10:5, and it is most revealing:

That is why, at his coming into the world, he says:
"Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire,
But thou hast prepared a body for me.
Whole-offerings and sin-offerings thou didst not delight in.
Then I said, 'Here am I: as it is written of me in the scroll,
I have come, O God, to do thy will.' " (Psalm 40:6-8 LXX) [NEB]
Here the use of the term "body" is determined by scripture. But is the concept placed in an historical, earthly setting? Seemingly not. The quotation from the Psalm is regarded as the voice of Christ speaking, and it is synchronous with his "coming into the world." Paul Ellingworth (Hebrews, p.499) calls the present tense used here a "timeless present." It certainly contains no association with a past moment of birth, at Bethlehem or anywhere else. All seems to take place in a scripture-revealed world of myth, unassociated with a given historical moment or incarnation.

See "Hebrews" #134 and Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven.

Thus, all these terms, "blood," "flesh," "body," can be seen to inhabit a mythical setting, in conformity with contemporary philosophy and views of the universe, and with the system of paradigmatic soteriology as represented in the mystery cults. If, alongside these terms, we were to find other instances in the epistles where references are made to Jesus inhabiting an earthly life and circumstances, we might be led to interpret such terms in a material fashion. But in the absence of anything but these ambiguous references, and in the presence of many passages which exclude or deny a role for a human Jesus in the faith movement, the Platonic interpretation of such terms seems eminently acceptable.

7. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

3  For I delivered to you, as of prime importance, what also I received:
    that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures,
4  and that he was buried,
    and that he has been raised on the third day according to the scriptures,
5  and that he was seen (ôphthê) by Cephas, then by the twelve;
6  afterward he was seen by over 500 brothers at one time,
    most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep;
7  afterward he was seen by James, then by all the apostles;
8  last of all, as to one abnormally born, he was seen by me as well.
The gospel of Paul and the appearances. Few other passages are pointed to so frequently to support the relationship of the epistles to the Gospels. But this assumption overlooks several anomalies.

What does the "received" of the opening line refer to? Almost universally it has been declared a reference to passed-on historical tradition, an oral gospel which Paul has gotten from others. But this would stand in direct contradiction with his adamant statement in Galatians 1:11-12: "For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel preached by me is not the product of men. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but (I received it) through a revelation of [about] Jesus Christ."

In that Galatians passage, Paul demonstrates that the verb paralambano can be used for both reception of a tradition and reception of a revelation, and in fact the verb was used in the mysteries in regard to a revelation from a deity. We are led, then, to regard Paul's gospel as stated in 1 Corinthians 15 to be one which he has personally developed from revelation. He also tells us specifically where he derived this revealed information. In verses 3 and 4, he uses the phrase kata tas graphas, "according to the scriptures," and while this is traditionally interpreted as meaning 'in fulfillment of the scriptures,' it may also have the meaning of 'as we learn from the scriptures.'

Can the details of Paul's gospel fit a mythical setting? Savior gods regularly died; they were even occasionally buried, as in the case of Osiris. (The 'burial' doctrine may derive from one of the elements in Paul's mystical view of baptism, that through this sacrament the believer was "buried" with Christ: see Romans 6:4. The rite determines the myth, a common process.) The rising from death is also an occasional feature of the mystery deities, but it may also be something Paul has derived from certain passages in the sacred writings, including that it occurred "on the third day" (as in Hosea 6:2).

An important corollary derives from the conclusion that Paul is speaking of a revealed gospel. He could hardly make such a claim if this information about Christ was circulating throughout the Christian world through oral tradition. Considering that he regularly speaks of Jesus' rising as a matter of faith (he even on occasion implies that the death is a matter of faith as well), we must conclude that no such historical traditions were in existence, and that these beliefs belong to the world of myth.

As for the list of "appearances" to people in Jerusalem, if the details of Paul's gospel are revealed myth, there is no necessary temporal connection between them and those "seeings" of the Christ. These men simply experienced some kind of revelation about him. Since Paul lists his own experience with the rest, with no suggestion that there is any difference in quality between his own and the others, we are entitled to conclude (as have some critical scholars, including those of the Jesus Seminar) that the latter are identical to Paul's, an experience which has always been accepted as entirely visionary, a revelation from the spiritual Son.

Finally, if the Gospels are regarded as the primary witness to the historical Jesus of Nazareth and his activities (and they must be, since he is to be found nowhere else in the early record), any document which fundamentally disagrees with that Gospel account should throw it into the deepest doubt. Paul's list of appearances shows glaring inconsistencies with the Gospel post-resurrection accounts, listing appearances which are not included in the Gospels (James and the 500) and completely ignoring the role and presence of the Gospel women.

This passage is dealt with at length in Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul's Gospel.

8. 1 Corinthians 7:10 / 9:14 ("words of the Lord")

Only once does a New Testament epistle writer offer pronouncements by Jesus which bear any resemblance to Gospel teachings. In answer to certain matters raised by the Corinthians, Paul twice mentions that he has a directive from "the Lord." Compared to the great ethical teachings recorded in the Gospels, these two little instructions are paltry. One (1 Corinthians 7:10) admonishes married couples not to divorce. The other (1 Corinthians 9:14) declares that apostles preaching the gospel should be paid for their trouble. When one considers how often Paul appeals to the scriptures for instruction and guidance, or how often he is engaged in crucial disputes but fails to draw on far more important teachings of Jesus to settle the matter, one can say that Paul has little or no sense of Jesus as a source of moral guidance. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9 he can even say that "you are taught by God to love one another"!

Where has Paul gotten these two directives in 1 Corinthians? We may once again turn to personal revelation. One of the hallmarks of the early prophetic movement was the practice of making pronouncements which the prophet claims he has received through direct personal revelation. Scholars call these "sayings of the risen Lord" and note that the early church made no distinction between such ongoing communications from heaven and the sayings of Jesus on earth. Of course, this is an unfounded rationalization, since the early record contains nothing which can be identified as having been regarded as sayings of Jesus on earth, since no such attributions to an historical Jesus are ever made.

Paul's own language points to a heavenly source for his "words of the Lord." Consider what he says a few verses after his directive against divorce, in 1 Corinthians 7:25: "About virgins (i.e., celibacy) I do not have a command of the Lord, but I give my own opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy."

The first-person phrasing indicates a general category of things Paul is accustomed to possessing for himself, not as part of a wide community knowledge or inheritance from tradition. In offering his own opinion, its value is based entirely on his sense of personal worth and reliability in the eyes of God.

9. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (the Lord's Supper)

This "Lord's Supper" scene is also included in scholars' catalogue of Paul's "words of the Lord" (as is the last of the group, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, an apocalyptic oracle about the coming of the Lord from heaven which has no parallel in the Gospels). Paul declares that he has received this information about Jesus' words at the Lord's Supper "from the Lord" (apo tou kuriou). While scholars have traditionally tied themselves in knots in order to see this as passed-on tradition from those who were at such a supposed event, the words plainly make it yet another case of personal revelation and Paul's own product. The verb he uses is paralambano, which we saw from Galatians 1:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 15:3 (above, No. 7) needs to be interpreted as reception through revelation.

A similar corollary also applies here. If Paul is describing words and a scene which he claims have come to him through a revelation from the Lord himself, this would rule out any circulating tradition about such an event throughout the Christian world, as Paul could hardly claim to know about it through personal inspiration. Indeed, as the present feature has pointed out, there seems to be a complete ignorance in the rest of the documentary record about any such Supper and any such establishment of a eucharistic sacrament (for example, in the Didache's thanksgiving meal of chapters 9 and 10, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews' discussion of the Mosaic covenant in 9:19-20—see "Top 20" #12).

As for the frequent translation of a phrase in the opening verse, "on the night he was arrested/betrayed," the latter renditions are dependent on Gospel preconceptions, whereas the word itself (paradidomi) has a basic meaning of "hand over" or "deliver up," which can equally apply in a mythical setting. Other passages in Paul (e.g., Romans 8:32) speak of God doing the delivering up, or even Jesus himself (Ephesians 5:2 and 25), which rules out, or renders unnecessary, a Gospel understanding. In regard to the setting at "night," there is nothing to prevent a mythical story from being set at night. If the Corinthian meal is observed after dark (Paul does not specify), the origin myth would likely be set at a corresponding time. Paul also links Christ's sacrifice with Passover (1 Cor. 5:7), a rite celebrated after sunset, though this link need only be symbolic and not identified with any specific historical Passover.

We are thus entitled to regard this "revealed" scene as a mythical development, possibly by Paul himself, and as such it falls into the same category as the sacred meal myths of all the other savior god cults of the time, many of which had meals which bore a strong resemblance to the Christian Eucharist.

The Lord's Supper scene is fully discussed in the section "Learning of a Sacred Meal" in Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paul's Gospel.

10. Galatians 1:19 ("brother of the Lord")

But I did not see any of the other apostles, except James, the brother of the Lord.
Paul uses the term "brother" a total of about 30 times, and the plural form "brothers" or "brethren" (as some translations render it) several more dozens of times. A minority are in the context of ethical teaching, Paul admonishing his audience about how to treat one's "brother." In most of these (if not all), the term means a fellow believer, not a blood sibling. In all of the other cases—leaving aside the passage under consideration here—the term clearly refers to a Christian believer, usually in the sense of one who is doing some kind of apostolic or congregational work (Timothy, Apollos, Sosthenes, Tychicus, Epaphroditus, etc.). In not a single instance can the term be identified as meaning "sibling."

It thus becomes a source of amazement to encounter those who claim that Galatians 1:19 is "obviously" a reference to James' sibling relationship to Jesus. When we compare the phrase with Philippians 1:14, "brothers/brethren in the Lord (adelphôn en kuriô)" which clearly refers to a brotherhood of believers, this is a strong indicator of what the almost identical phrase applied to James signifies. He, too, is a 'brother in/of the Lord.' The fact that Paul nowhere else applies this full phrase to other specific individuals is hardly a compelling argument against such an interpretation. James, as head of the Jerusalem brotherhood, may have been granted this designation as a special 'title.' We should also note that the phrase's formality seems out of place; if Paul were talking about a personal sibling relationship, "the brother of Jesus" might have been more apt, rather than "of the Lord."

The appearance of the phrase "the brothers of the Lord" in 1 Corinthians 9:5 can further refine the picture. While the term "brother" by itself in general parlance, to judge by Paul's use of it, seems to be applied to all manner of apostles and believers, the phrase "brothers in/of the Lord" may designate a certain sectarian group or organization, one located in Jerusalem. This is suggested by the mention of the "more than 500 brothers" listed among those who had a vision of the spiritual Christ (1 Cor. 15:6). They have been differentiated from Peter, James and "all the apostles," indicating that the latter may be a sub-group within the overall brotherhood. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 9:5, the "other apostles" and even Peter are differentiated from "the brothers of the Lord," which would suggest that the latter group are not simply 'believers' since such a term would surely include Peter and the apostles, as it would include Peter, James and the apostles separately listed in 1 Corinthians 15. Thus, "brothers in/of the Lord" seems to designate an organized body, even if it may have been one with a fluid membership. (These apparent anomalies in both 1 Corinthians passages should caution us against trying to make too fixed an interpretation based on Paul's words, or at least the words that have ended up in our extant copies.)

It has also been noted that the epistles ascribed to both James and Jude conspicuously lack any mention of either of these figures being brothers of Jesus. For a full discussion of these and other points in this question, see my Response to Sean in Reader Feedback 3.

I also consider it a distinct possibility that this phrase began as a marginal gloss which was later inserted into the text. While there is nothing to indicate one way or another, it is the sort of wording that a scribe might have placed in the margin to clarify which James Paul was referring to. Such a 'clarification' would have been needed during the second century, after "James, the son of Zebedee" became known as one of the Gospel apostles of Jesus, and James the Just had come to be regarded as Jesus' brother. A distinction might have been felt necessary in order to avoid confusion on the part of the reader.

     As a corollary, we also need to be cautious in relying too much on analyses that depend on the exact wording of our surviving text. Whole arguments in the case of "the brother of the Lord" have hinged on the word "the" or the preposition "of" as opposed to the "in" of Philippians 1:14. Considering that our earliest portion of Galatians in an extant manuscript comes from the third century, and in complete form only in the fourth, and that all sorts of scribal amendments were made, intentionally and unintentionally, to the New Testament texts, reliance on knowing the original wording of any passage is extremely unwise.

11. Galatians 4:4 (-7)

4But when the term [of enslavement to the Law] was completed, God sent his own Son, born of (a) woman, born under the Law, to purchase freedom for the subjects of the law, 5in order that we might attain the status of sons. 6And because you are sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying 'Father!' 7You are therefore no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then also by God's own act an heir." [NEB]
First, let's look at the principal phrase, "God sent his own Son." As described above (No. 4), this can be taken in the sense of the present-day revelation of Christ by God to apostles like Paul. It is a verb also used in the Old Testament in connection with the sending of spiritual beings such as angels, or Wisdom as in the Wisdom of Solomon 9:10. The basic form of the verb is used to denote the sending of the Holy Spirit. And in verse 6 the same verb is used to say that "God has sent into our hearts the spirit of his Son." Both the sending in verse 4 and the sending in verse 6 seem to be taking place at the same time, namely in the Pauline present. This is the arrival of the spiritual Christ within the current phenomenon of divine revelation.

If Paul has the acts of an historical Jesus in mind when he speaks of freedom and attaining the status of sons (verse 5), why does he revert in verse 7 to calling such things the result of an act of God? In fact, in the Greek of verse 5, the subject of the verb "purchase freedom" (literally, redeem) remains God. In other words, Paul has introduced Jesus onto the present scene, but fails to let him do the redeeming while he is here. Paul continues his characteristic focus on God in subsequent verses.

The two qualifying phrases, "born of woman, born under the Law," are descriptive of the Son, but not necessarily tied to the present 'sending.' Edward D. Burton (International Critical Commentary, Galatians, p.216f) points out that the way the verb and participle tenses are used in the Greek, the birth and subjection to the Law are presented as simple facts, with no necessary temporal relation to the main verb "sent." In other words, the conditions of being "born of woman" and being "subject to the Law" —the latter is Burton's preferred translation—do not have to be seen as present occurrences. (Burton, it is true, does not himself advocate this conclusion.) Paul has simply enumerated two of the features of the spiritual Christ which are relevant to the discussion.

Burton also notes that the word usually translated as "born" (genomenon) is not the most unambiguous verb that could have been used for this idea; the passive of gennaô, to give birth, would have been more straightforward. Instead, Paul uses the verb ginomai, which has a broader meaning of "to become, to come into existence." (Paul also uses the broader ginomai in Romans 1:3, where he says that the Son "arose from David's seed.") "Out of woman," of course, implies birth, but the point is, the broader concept lends itself to the atmosphere of myth.

Moreover, Paul's "born of woman" is not only something that was said of certain mythical savior gods, like Dionysos, it is a detail he could well have based not on history, but on his source for all that he says about the Son: the scriptures. The famous passage in Isaiah 7:14, "A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son and call him Immanuel," was taken by Jew and early Christian alike to refer to the Messiah. Once again, a scriptural passage that could not be ignored was applied by early Christians to their heavenly Christ, in the sense of counterpart characteristics which he possessed in the higher world. National gods were often regarded as having the same lineage as the nation itself, which is one interpretation that could be given to Christ as "born" (or 'coming into being') under the Law.

Not surprisingly, Paul fails to give us the name of this woman, and she is notably missing only a few verses later (4:24-31) when he offers an elaborate allegory about mothers and sons in regard to the descendants of Abraham. One might ask why it is that Paul bothers to say that Christ was born of a woman, since this should be an obvious biological fact to his readers. His point may be that he wishes to stress the paradigmatic parallel between believers—who are themselves born of woman, as well as born under the law of the old covenant which Paul wants to abrogate—and Christ himself. Only through counterpart characteristics can paradigmatic effects exist. But such relationships by definition operate between higher and lower worlds, between the spiritual and the material. It follows, then, that Christ and his features must belong to the higher world, in order to be in appropriate counterpart to those of Paul's readers.

12. Ephesians 2:17

And coming, he (Christ) announced the good news, peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near, for through him we both alike have access in one spirit to the Father.
As in Nos. 4 and 11, Christ's "coming" is in a spiritual sense, one sent and revealed by God, as the epistles constantly tell us using verbs of disclosure and revelation. If the writer of this letter had the ministry of Jesus in mind, why did he not give us some of the teachings ascribed to him in the Gospels? Rather, the thought follows on the mythological idea of verses 14 to 16, discussed above (in No. 5), that the heavenly Christ has through his death reunited, not only a divided universe but a divided mankind, namely Jew and gentile. The thought expressed here in verse 17, in fact, is drawn from scripture, from Isaiah 57:19 which speaks of an end-time reconciliation between peoples. Even the preliminary words about preaching good news are based on Isaiah 52:7. This is a Christ coming in the spirit and speaking to the world through the reinterpreted sacred writings, a common feature of early Christian expression. The final phrase of the verse identifies him as a spiritual channel to the Father.

13. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14You [referring to the Christians of Thessalonica] have fared like the congregations in Judea, God's people in Christ Jesus. You have been treated by your countrymen as they are treated by the Jews, 15who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out, the Jews who are heedless of God's will and enemies of their fellow-men, 16hindering us from speaking to the gentiles to lead them to salvation. All this time they have been making up the full measure of their guilt, and now retribution has overtaken them for good and all." [NEB]
Verses 15-16 of this passage are almost universally regarded among critical scholars as an interpolation. Their sentiment does not agree with attitudes expressed elsewhere by Paul toward his Jewish countrymen, and the final sentence contains a virtually unmistakable reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred after Paul's death. Their authenticity is also belied by Paul's silence elsewhere on any guilt of the Jews in the matter of Christ's death, such as in Romans 11, where such a reference would have been natural and expected.

The question of interpolation in this passage has been thoroughly addressed in Supplementary Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus? Some of the scholars who have declared this an interpolation are Birger Pearson, Burton Mack, Wayne Meeks, Helmut Koester, Pheme Perkins, S. G. F. Brandon, Paula Fredrikson (see there for details).

14. 1 Timothy 6:13 / ( and 6:3)

1 Timothy 6:12-14 reads ("Paul" addressing "Timothy"):

12Run the great race of faith and take hold of eternal life. For to this you were called and you confessed your faith nobly before many witnesses. 13Now in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Jesus Christ, [who himself made the same noble confession and gave his testimony to it before Pontius Pilate,] 14I charge you to obey your orders irreproachably and without fault until our Lord Jesus Christ appears."
While few scholars have openly declared this passage [in square brackets] to be an interpolation, some have pointed out certain problems in seeing it as a good fit within its context. These have been outlined in the Appendix to Article No. 3: Who Crucified Jesus?

The possibility of interpolation is also supported by something suspicious which occurs a few verses earlier. This is in regard to a recurring phrase throughout the Pastoral epistles: "wholesome teaching." The one occurrence (6:3) in which any attribution to Jesus is attached has the look of a marginal gloss inserted into the text: "those of the Lord Jesus Christ." This is especially likely, since at its first appearance (1:10) such teaching is attributed to God. This question, too, is examined in Article No. 3, and in item #102 of the Sound of Silence.

The reference to Pilate in 6:13 may alternatively be seen as a reflection of a newly developing biography about an historical Jesus in the early part of the second century, since all three Pastoral epistles are regarded by critical scholars as not by Paul but as second century products. However, I regard the Pastorals as containing strong evidence that their writer(s) is still unaware of any historical Jesus, and thus would argue for the stronger likelihood of interpolation. (See "1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus" #102-114.)

15. Hebrews 7:14

For it is very evident (prodêlon) that our Lord is sprung (anatetalken) from Judah, a tribe to which Moses made no reference in speaking of priests.
Nowhere in Hebrews is the author concerned with recounting historical facts. All is dependent on scripture and archetypal relationships between old and new (with many of the most natural and compelling of those relationships, in regard to comparison with the Gospels, completely missing). The author needs to present his heavenly Christ as a new High Priest, one who supplants the old cultic sacrificial system. Although he makes no specific mention of David, he is drawing here on well-known scriptural references to the future Messiah as being of the house of Judah. The use of "prodêlon" (clear, manifest to the senses or to judgment) fits the sense of knowledge drawn from scripture, not a product of historical record. No question of genealogy, such as we find in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, enters the picture.

The verb "anatellein", to spring (by birth), is also the language of scripture. It is used in several messianic passages, such as Zechariah 6:12 and Ezekiel 29:21 ("a horn shall spring forth"). To confirm Jesus' role as High Priest, the writer turns to nothing in history, he draws on no deed or saying from the story of Jesus' life, but delves instead (7:17) into the timeless pages of scripture: "Thou art a priest forever, in the succession of Melchizedek." This line from the all-important Psalm 110 he takes as God's word to Jesus.

We might also note that "is sprung from" is in the perfect tense in the Greek, not a past-tense aorist, such as we might have expected had the writer meant: "Jesus of Nazareth was sprung from Judah." Instead, he uses the perfect "has sprung" which fits the mythical outlook: such things have happened, but they are also eternal and timeless, just as scripture, the timeless word of God, continues to inform us of these spiritual events. Buchanan, in his Anchor Bible Commentary (Hebrews, p.253) admits that "the author may not have received the information from local tradition at all . . . (but) from his use of scripture." Scripture: God's 'window' onto the higher spiritual world and its counterparts to earthly things.

16. Hebrews 9:27-28

27And as it is the lot of men to die once, and after death comes judgment, 28so Christ was offered once to bear the burden of men's sins, and will appear [literally, he will be seen, or will reveal himself] a second time [ek deuterou], sin done away, to bring salvation to those who are watching for him.
Scholars claim that here at least—and they are willing to allow that it is only here in the entire corpus of New Testament epistles—a Christian writer clearly refers to the End-time coming of Jesus, the Parousia, as a second coming. But is there such a reference even here?

If the "ek deuterou" means a second time, the parallel with verse 27 is destroyed. Verse 27 is saying that "first men die, and after that (or 'next') they are judged." There is no sense here of a "second time" for anything; the writer is simply offering us a sequence of events: death, followed by judgment. Does this not imply that verse 28 is offering a sequence as well? "Christ was offered once, and after that (next) he will appear to bring salvation."

The idea of appearing "a second time" would be intrusive here. Since the writer is clearly presenting his readers with some kind of parallel between verses 27 and 28 (note also the "once" in both parts), it seems unlikely he would introduce an element which doesn't fit the parallel, especially one he doesn't need. "Ek deuterou" can have the alternate meaning of "secondly" or "next in sequence," like the similar word deuteron, which appears in this sense in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Just as men's death is followed by judgment, so is Christ's sacrifice followed by his appearance, but with no indication of how long a time between the two. Before the turn of the century, Vaughan (quoted in The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol.4, p.340) translated verse 28 this way: "Christ died once and the next thing before him is the Advent." Thus even in Hebrews it would seem that we have no Second Coming of Christ.

17. Hebrews 12:2-3

2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. [NIV]
A seeming biographical element, reminiscent, if vaguely, of the Gospel story. Verse 2 is not a problem in itself. The reference to "the cross" can fit a mythical context, just as similar features in the myths of the savior gods do not spell an historical or earthly setting. We may compare the Ascension of Isaiah 9:13, in which the Son, descending through the layers of heaven, is "hung on a tree" by "the god of that world," meaning Satan; or Paul's similar reference to "the rulers of this age" (accepted by most critical scholars as meaning the demon spirits) as the crucifiers of "the Lord of glory." The context in these passages is the heavenly world, not earth. We should also note that the above passage in Hebrews provides a very clear example of how early Christian thought envisioned no sojourn on earth after the resurrection, but saw Christ as proceeding directly to heaven following his death—wherever and however that was. As soon as he has "endured the cross" he takes his seat by the heavenly throne of God.

The matter of verse 3 is a little trickier. The Greek is literally: "Consider the one who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself (hupo tôn hamartôlôn eis heauton) . . ." Is this a reference to the Sandhedrin and Pilate, or the Pharisees who oppose Jesus' ministry, or the accusers and mockers at Jesus crucifixion? Some would like to read such graphic images into it, but the writer is not so accommodating. His vague reference, in fact, lends itself to a different interpretation, one conforming to the dominant practice one finds throughout Hebrews, namely the derivation of all its comparisons and archetypes from scripture.

Here, more than one scholar has pointed out the similarity of language and thought to the episode in Numbers 16:38 (LXX). There, Core, Dathan and Abiron have rebelled against Moses and his claim to speak for the Lord, with the result that they all perish in the abyss that opens up beneath their feet. The Lord then directs Moses to sanctify the censers of "these sinners against their own souls" (tôn hamartôlôn toutôn en tais psuchais autôn). The point is, they are sinners 'against themselves.' When we turn to the Hebrews passage, we find a similar phrase, now in the form of "sinners against himself," the latter referring to Christ. But this final word shows variants between manuscripts. Does the parallel in Numbers indicate that the original reading was "sinners against themselves"? Hugh Montefiore (Hebrews, p.216) accepts such a reading. Does the meaning entail the idea that Jesus is enduring hostility for sinners in general, that is, for their sake, not that the sinners are the ones being hostile to him, as in the Gospel portrayal? (This is Jean Héring's translation, Hebrews, p.109.) Jesus 'enduring hostility' may encompass no more than the mythical concept that he suffered and died.

Alternatively, if Jesus is said to have endured hostility—or rebellion, if the thought is a conscious parallel to the use of the word in Numbers—on the part of sinners, meaning that he suffered in order to redeem rebellious sinners (whether sinners against himself or against themselves), the whole idea may have been introduced in order to make a comparison to the believers in what the writer now urges upon them. Verse 4 goes on to say: "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Just as Jesus suffered on account of sin, this too is the experience of believers, though their sufferings have not gone as far as his. But they too should endure, just as Jesus did. The writer rounds out his little homily by offering words of encouragement. Where are they taken from? Not from any voice of Jesus on earth, but once more from scripture, in Proverbs 3:11-12, a reference to God disciplining his sons.

18. Hebrews 13:11-13

11Those animals whose blood is brought as a sin-offering by the high priest into the sanctuary have their bodies burnt outside the camp, 12and therefore Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to meet him outside the camp, bearing the stigma that he bore. [NEB]
The progression of the writer's thought in this passage reveals the source of this piece of "information" about Jesus, and is yet another example, following on the previous item, of his thorough dependence on scripture for the picture he presents. The starting point is not an historical tradition concerning Jesus, it is the sacrificial rite of the cult of Sinai as recounted in the scriptures. The writer's assumption is that everything to do with his heavenly High Priest must mirror that primordial archetype, that Jesus' actions in the higher, spiritual world had to have paralleled it. His language directly reflects such thinking. The animals' bodies were burned outside the camp at Sinai, and "therefore" Jesus himself did the same, "outside the gate." (It's too bad he didn't refer to Jerusalem or mention the names Calvary or Golgotha. Then we could all go home.)

That the idea of "outside the gate" is essentially symbolic is also supported by the succeeding verse, which suggests that the author saw both Jesus and his own sect as rejected outsiders, living 'beyond the pale' with no permanent home.

This passage, along with an earlier one (7:1-3) which also demonstrates that the writer of Hebrews has no concept of Jesus ever having been in Jerusalem, is discussed at length in Supplementary Article No. 9: A Sacrifice in Heaven.

19. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful search and inquiry, 11seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ (eis Christon) and the glories (doxas) to follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [NASB]
As I pointed out in "James and 1 & 2 Peter" #161, the writer of this epistle is pointing to the prophets and what they wrote, asking whether this was meant for the time of those prophets or for the time of the epistle's readers. According to the writer, those prophecies pointed to the Christian apostles of his own day and the message they now carry, inspired by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. This curious thought, which ignores any idea that the prophets had foretold Jesus himself and passes over anything he might have done on earth, is remarkably similar to the way Paul expresses himself in Romans 1:2-4 ("Romans" #21), where the "gospel of God announced beforehand in the prophets" foretold Paul's gospel and not the life of Jesus. The thought also ignores any role for Jesus in the recent past, either in regard to prophesying his own sufferings (which the Gospels have him frequently do) or in setting in motion the movement to which those inspired Christian apostles belong.

But what has the writer said in the previous verses? Standard translations, like the one above, inevitably cast things as though the prophets are foretelling Christ's sufferings and his subsequent glory. While this might be taken as applying to the "sufferings" of Christ in the higher world, in a mythical setting, an alternative understanding of the passage has been given by a few commentators. Note the overall idea contained in verses 10 to 12. Verse 10 speaks of the 'grace of God that would come to you,' and verse 12 'the matter the prophets spoke of related not to themselves but to you.' The readers of the epistle are in sight in both these verses. Thus when we look at the intervening verse 11, which talks of the spirit of Christ in the prophets pointing to and foretelling sufferings and glories to follow, it might be asked: should not these sufferings and glories also refer to the readers? And in fact, the phrase "eis Christon" which modifies "sufferings" can be taken not as the sufferings of Christ, but the sufferings of the believers in their goal to reach Christ, or as resulting from their faith in Christ. Such a focus on the readers would be in parallel with the focus on the readers in both flanking verses. Also, the latter half of verse 12 says that the preachers who bring the gospel announce such things (the sufferings and glories foretold by the prophets), as though these things are distinct from the "gospel" they carry, whereas if the sufferings and exaltation of Christ were the meaning, this should be an actual part of the gospel.

Ernest Best (1 Peter, p.81-83) points out that the term "glories" (doxas, plural) is unusual in application to Christ's exaltation, where such a thing is usually in the singular, and thus there is additional reason here to consider that the idea is not applied to Christ, but to the readers. Best quotes Selwyn's reading of "eis Christon" in the sense of "the sufferings (of Christians) on the 'Christward road' and their own subsequent glory." The "eis Christon" of verse 11 is paralleled by the "eis humas" of verse 10, both then relating to the readers. The last point to make is the idea implied by the final part of verse 12: "These are things that angels long to see into." The angels may be denied an understanding of the mysteries of salvation, but they would hardly be unaware of the fact that Christ had suffered and been exalted, as foretold by the prophets. Thus all things considered, the idea that verse 11 refers to prophecies of the sufferings of Christ is not at all necessary or compelling.

20. 2 Peter 1:16-18

It was not on tales artfully spun that we relied when we told (gnoridzo) you of the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming (parousia); we saw him with our own eyes [literally, we became eyewitnesses] in majesty, when at the hands of God the Father he was invested with honor and glory, and there came to him from the sublime Presence a voice which said: 'This is my Son, my Beloved, on whom my favor rests.' This voice from heaven we ourselves heard; when it came we were with him on the sacred mountain. [NEB]
Just as Paul has a single passage suggesting a scene found in the Gospels (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, the "Lord's Supper"), so does the remaining body of epistles have another passage reminiscent of a Gospel scene. Scholars inevitably regard 2 Peter 1:16-18 as reflecting the memory of the incident in Jesus' ministry (whatever it might have been) which ended up in the Synoptic Gospels as the so-called Transfiguration.

I have already devoted a lengthy discussion to this passage in "James and 1 & 2 Peter" #176, as it contains notable missing elements when compared to the Synoptic passage, and raises many questions and anomalies which lead one to suspect that the writer knows nothing of a Gospel incident but is recounting a tradition about an epiphany, a visionary experience attributed to the apostle Peter. (Both Peter and the incident itself now lay in a fairly distant past, since this epistle is usually dated early in the second century. However, the epistle as a whole indicates that its writer and community still possessed no concept that that early apostle of the Christ had been a follower of an historical Jesus on earth.)

Important elements of the Gospel scene are not included, the writer passes up a far more convincing incident to prove Jesus' power, namely his resurrection from the tomb, the language has features which do not suggest that this took place during an earthly ministry and in fact the account resembles that of Old Testament epiphanies: these are only some of the arguments covered in the above-mentioned item #176. This is to be taken with #177, on the succeeding verse 1:19, in which the writer declares that this incident is secondary to the promises in scripture, the paramount source of Christian hopes. This is a bizarre idea no one with any knowledge of Jesus' life on earth could possibly have expressed. (These 2 Peter passages also constitute the central feature of Supplementary Article No. 7: Transfigured on the Holy Mountain: The Beginnings of Christianity.

Addendum: Revelation

While Revelation is not an epistle, a few of its silences were included in the main part of the Sound of Silence, and I will note here that there are two passing references in the final document of the New Testament which have suggested elements of the Gospel picture. To deal with those I will reproduce the relevant portions of my Supplementary Article No. 11: Revelation: The Gospel According to the Prophet John.

In 11:1-13 the author incorporates what are probably two earlier Jewish oracles originally spoken during the tribulations of the Jewish War. The first relates to the Temple and the abandonment of its outer court to the invading gentile. In the second, two prophets shall prophesy in the Holy City and then be slain. . . .

"Their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified." (11:8, RSV translation)

Is John using these oracles literally, or only as a symbolic representation of the people of God being rejected and attacked by the godless world? As for verse 8's "great city," some commentators regard this as symbolic, and not a literal reference to Jerusalem. For example, John Sweet (op.cit., p.187) suggests that it represents the social and political embodiment of rebellion against God; "its present location is Rome." P. E. Hughes (Revelation, p.127) takes it as denoting "the worldwide structure of unbelief and defiance against God." G. Kroedel (Augsberg Commentary on Revelation, p. 226), while regarding the city on one level as Jerusalem, sees it "not as a geographical location but a symbolic place," representing the immoral, idolatrous, oppressive world. It is, then, a symbol of the corruption personified by great cities in general, the godless world "where their Lord was crucified." This says no more than that the sacrifice of Christ was the responsibility of the forces of evil and those who reject the gospel, a mystical concept which may have had no more historical substance than this in the mind of the writer.

We might also note that the clause "where their Lord was crucified" could be taken as tied primarily to the "allegorically called Sodom and Egypt" (the Greek phrase is literally "spiritually called"), and would thus be a step removed from any literal material "city," even were the latter to be understood as Jerusalem.

O. S. Wintermute, in a study of the Apocalypse of Elijah, observes (The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1, p.748, note 'w') that the term "great city" is frequently a pejorative expression, and was most often applied to the metropolis of a detested enemy. Comparing Revelation, he admits that its author always uses the term to refer to Rome. (He insists, however, that the one exception is here in 11:8, "where it is used to describe the city in which the Lord was crucified," a good example of the practice of denying the acknowledged evidence on the basis of preconception.)

As for the reference to the "twelve apostles of the Lamb" whose names are inscribed on the twelve foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (21:14), that this is a mystic number and not identified with any historical figures can be seen by the context: the heavenly Jerusalem possesses twelve gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and a city wall with twelve foundation stones; upon these stones are inscribed "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." (Such "apostles" could have been envisioned as being of the type of John himself, namely prophets of the spiritual Christ.) It was probably such symbolic thinking which created the tradition that Jesus had had twelve disciples during an earthly ministry.

To File No. 11: Postscript

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