Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

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




ź 64. - Galatians 1:11-12

Nothing could be more clearly stated. Paul has arrived at his knowledge and doctrine of the Christ he preaches through personal revelation. He denies receiving anything from other men, by teaching, by passed-on apostolic tradition. We are entitled, therefore, to regard the gospel he spells out in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, as well as the information he gives the Corinthians about the Lordís Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23f, as a product of revelation, and not handed-on tradition from others. (He uses the same verb, paralambano, in all three places.) This conclusion is thoroughly argued in my Supplementary Article No. 6: The Source of Paulís Gospel.

Paul obviously considers that the revelation he has received from God is more valid and important than anything which other men might have to teach him. But is it conceivable that he could so blithely disparage and reject the value of anything which the apostles who had accompanied Jesus in his earthly ministry might have to offer? Indeed, we never get a hint that Paul derived any information about Jesus from the Jerusalem apostles. Such a turning up of the nose at oral tradition from the men who had known and heard Jesus himself would have drawn justifiable criticism, not only from the Jerusalem apostles themselves, but from other Christian preachers in the field, and Paul would have been forced to respond to it. Some hint of that criticism and its basis would have surfaced in his letters when he discusses the value and validity of his own apostleship and gospel. None ever does.

In such an absence, we can see Paulís point here. The superior apostle is he who is blessed with direct revelation from God. Others might teach Christ, but they relied on learning about him from those who had favored access to the pipeline of divine disclosure.

We should stand in astonishment at this picture of the premier apostle of the period passionately defining the highest measure of reliability and authenticity for a Christian preacherís gospel: not that it had its roots in the things Jesus had done and taught on earth, not in Jesusí own delegation of authority during his ministry, not through any apostolic channel which went back to a genesis in the Lordís own life, but through a divine revelation, the spirit of God bestowed individually on chosen Christian prophets! Amazingly, Paul is acknowledging no gospel of Jesus going back to Jesus. He is allowing for no primacy of any gospel held by those who had seen, heard and followed the Lord while he was on earth, no superiority of any apostle who had been appointed by Jesus himself. Either Paul was guilty of the most supreme arrogance, or else such concepts simply did not exist for him.

ź 65. - Galatians 1:13

A church founded by the followers of the earthly Jesus, who had personally chosen them as apostles and had directed them to teach all nationsóand yet Paul calls it "the church of God"? On the other hand, if that church had formed as a result of Godís revelation through the Spirit (as Paul and other epistle writers repeatedly say), with Jesus merely the content of that revelation, the term is perfectly apt.

ź 66. - Galatians 2:6

Here Paul disparages the importance of Peter and the other Jerusalem apostles as being neither of any concern to him, nor to God for that matter. How could Paul, as self-important as he is, dismiss with such disdain the very chosen apostles of Jesus, particularly the one on whom Jesus is supposed to have "built his church" (Mt. 16:18)? Paul then goes on (next passage) to parallel his own appointment to apostleship by God with Peterís appointmentóalso by God. Paul not only ignores any superior position of Peter by virtue of having been chosen and elevated by Jesus himself, he excludes it!

ź ó Galatians 2:8 - See "Top 20" #6

ź 67. - Galatians 2:14

Perhaps no issue in Christianityís earliest period loomed larger and had a more divisive effect than this one: to what extent were gentile converts to the faith required to conform to the Jewish Law, particularly in regard to circumcision for males and to eating practices? If ever there were a compelling need to draw upon the teaching and example of Jesus, it would be in the context of these crucial debates. Yet in passages like this one, in which Paul recounts how Peter suspended his willingness to eat with gentiles, we get not a hint of any such appeal.

Gospel scenes such as Mark 2:15-17 and Luke 5:30-32 have Jesus defending himself against criticism for sharing his table with tax collectors and sinners. Could this exemplary behavior not have served Paul as an argument against Peterís unwillingness to share meals with gentiles? (The tax gatherers may have been mostly local Jews, but the principle was still the same: engaging in table fellowship with the unclean.) Such considerations belie the whole rationalization that Paul felt no interest in the earthly life of Jesus and would not have wished or needed to draw upon it in his missionary work. The opening line of the above passage should really have read: "But when I saw that their conduct did not square with Jesusí own conduct . . ."

[ Note that it would not matter if Jesus had actually pronounced on the issue under debate or not. The needs of such polemical situations would inevitably have led to the development of a tradition that he had said something. What we see in the Gospels, of course, is this process in reverse. General developments by reform-minded sectarian circles (here, relaxing the purity rules to allow mixed table fellowship) became focused and personified in a founding figure who had actually taught such things and to whom appeal could now be made for authority. This was one of the paramount purposes served by the Gospels. ]

ź 68. - Galatians 3:23-25

In the passage leading to these verses, Paul is explaining and justifying his suspension of the Jewish law as a requirement for salvation. In its place stands only "faith in Jesus Christ" (verse 22). And what is it that marks the great turning point, the passing away of the lawís term of effect and usefulness? Not the arrival of Christ himself, not his career on earth, but the beginning of faith in him, meaning the response of believers to the gospel, revealed to and preached by apostles like Paul.

Verse 24ís "until Christ came" (NEB and a few others) is a wishful translation of a simple eis Christon (to Christ), which although conceivably translatable as "to the time of Christ," benefits from the more common translation of "leading one to Christ," meaning to faith in him; alternatively, it could mean to the time of Christís revelation. Either one fits the thought voiced in both flanking verses which speak of the arrival of faith, not of Christ himself. Note that in verse 23 Paul speaks of the "revelation" of faith, or the "faith to be revealed." Such an expression makes sense only in the context of what the epistles are continually saying: that the doctrine about the Christ, the very existence of the Son, is something that has been revealed by God in the present time to apostles like Paul (Romans 16:25-27, 1 Peter 1:20, etc.)

ź 69. - Galatians 4:4-6

Many point to this passage as "proof" that Paul knows and is speaking of an historical, human Jesus. I deal with this passage extensively in my Supplementary Article No. 8: Christ As "Man", and it will also be discussed in the Appendix to this feature. Here I will point out the basic difficulties in so relying on this passage.

The two "sent" verbs of verses 4 and 6 are exactly the same, yet the latter specifies that it is the Sonís spirit which God sends, not his bodily person. And when is it that God "sent his son"? When "we were children" (4:1) in order to confer the rights of sons, which happens when God sends the Sonís spirit, all of which happens in the Pauline present. Most perplexing of all, why in the phrase "to redeem those under the law" is it, grammatically speaking, God who is doing the redeeming and not Jesus himself? The same oddity occurs in verse 7. As the NEB phrases it: "You are . . . also by Godís own act an heir." Why is Paul incapable of focusing on Jesus, in his recent incarnation and historical deeds of redemption, as the source of all these benefits?

[ I often quote Burtonís observation (International Critical Commentary, Galatians, p.218-19) that, grammatically speaking, the phrases "born of woman [Burton prefers it without the article], born under the law" are not necessarily linked temporally with the "God sent his Son," but are simply stated characteristics of the Son. And why is Paul bothering to say at all that Jesus was born of (a) woman? Would this not be self-evident if he was an historical man? Rather, he needs to make a paradigmatic parallel with those being redeemed, who were themselves born of woman and born under the law. Heavenly counterpart figures could guarantee certain effects on their initiates precisely because they reflected, or underwent, the same features and experiences as their earthly counterparts. Can a spirit world deity be Ďborn of womaní? He can in the mythical sense (as with the savior god Dionysos), and he can if scripture says that he was. The famous Isaiah 7:14, "A young woman is with child, and she will bear a son and will call him Immanuel," was a prominent messianic text which early Christians could not ignore. Even the "born under the law" might, in Paulís very imaginative use of scripture, be derived from his interpretation of Christ as Abrahamís "seed" in Galatians 3:16. ]

ź 70. - Galatians 4:22-31

In Galatians 4:22-31, Paul makes his own interpretation of the story of Abraham and the two sons he had by his two women. The first woman is Abrahamís concubine, the slave Hagar; she gives birth to Ishmael, who stands for the Jewish race who still exist in slavery under the Law and the old covenant. That race and that covenant is represented by Mount Sinai. And what is the other half of the parallel? The second woman is Abrahamís legitimate wife, the free-born Sarah; she is the mother of Isaac, the true inheritor of Godís promise, Abrahamís spiritual heir. In a manner unspecified, Paul links his gentile readers with Isaac; they too are children of the promise, children of Sarah who is symbolized by the heavenly Jerusalem. This represents the source of the new convenant.

Paul strains for some of this allegory, but on the surface the whole thing might seem to hang together. Yet something seems to be missing here, something we would expect to find, especially as Christ "born of woman" is still fresh in Paulís mind. He is talking about mothers and sons. Why is Mary not worked into this analogy, if only as a secondary part of the interpretation? She was after all the mother of Jesus himself who established the new convenant. She is surely a type to Sarahís archetype (meaning a later representation of some archetypal figure in scripture; or to put it another way, the scriptural figure or element prefigures the later one). So is Jesus himself to Isaac, both symbols of sacrificed victims. (Even though Isaac was not actually killed, he assumed this significance in Jewish thinking.)

Paul has spent much of Galatians 3 linking the gentiles to Abraham through Christ as his "seed": why not double such a link through Mary and Sarah? Could not Mary be allegorized as the mother of Christians? Where, for that matter, is the thing which should have been obvious as the symbol of the new covenant, in parallel to Mount Sinai as the symbol of the old one: not the heavenly Jerusalem but the Mount of Calvary where Jesus was crucified, site of the blood sacrifice which had established that new convenant?

Paul once again shows himself to be totally immune in his thought and expression to all aspects of the earthly life of Jesus of Nazareth.

ź 71. - Galatians 5:14

This is the second time (cf. Romans 13:8) that Paul expresses himself exactly as the Gospel Jesus does and speaks of the whole Law being summed up in this one rule from Leviticus. In neither place does he show awareness of any tradition that Jesus had made this a centerpiece of his teaching (eg, Mt. 22:39). Paul may, if we are to believe the usual rationalization, have had "no interest" in Jesusí ministry and the things he did on earth, but if he knew the bare fact that Jesus had taught (and how could he not?), he must have heard that the love commandment had figured prominently in that teaching. It is hard to believe that his lack of interest was so profound, indeed so pathological, that he would in several places in his letters speak of the ethics of Christian love and yet refuse to even suggest that such teaching had anything to do with the historical preaching Son of God.


ź 72. - Ephesians 1:7-10

A somewhat convoluted and ambiguous passage in the Greek, but one thing is clear: the absence of any historical Jesus in the thinking of this pseudo-Pauline writer. If Christís "blood" is regarded as spiritual and shed in the mythical realm, the rest of the sentence speaks of Godís revelation in Paulís time, of the mystery that the sundered universe (it was one of the concepts of the era that the evil spirits had divided heaven from earth) was to be brought back into a unity through the Sonís spiritual sacrifice. The "fullness of time" (v.10) is marked, not by the sacrifice itself, let alone by any life and ministry of the Son, but by the revelation of Godís intentions to such as Paul, and the reunification of things earthly and heavenly; the latter is an entirely mythological event which was hardly verifiable through historical or material world observation. Note also that verses 7 and 8 speak of Godís grace being lavished upon us, but is that grace the person and event of Jesus of Nazareth? No, it is the "wisdom and insight" which God has bestowed, again fitting the context of revelation. (This is followed in verse 9 by a revelation word, gnoridzo.) Revelation about the Son, not the arrival of the Son himself.

There are many uses of "in Christ" in this passage (see 1:3f), but all of them fit the context of Christ as spiritual channel and divine agency operating in a mythical setting; what we do not find is the phrase attached to any mention of an historical event.

ź 73. - Ephesians 1:19-23

I quote this passage to make a point about one of the vast and fundamental silences found in the epistles, in their frequent portrayal (cf. Col. 15-20, Heb. 1:2-3, etc.) of Christ in such lofty terms. Never is there mention that this cosmic Son of God, on whom is bestowed full divinity and power over all things, filling and sustaining the entire universe, to whom believing humanity is mystically united, was formerly on earth as a humble Jewish preacher known as Jesus of Nazareth. Nowhere does anyone deal with the bizarre and blasphemous phenomenon that a crucified criminal, ignominiously executed on a hill outside Jerusalem, has been raisedóamong Jews, no lessóto such an exalted and unprecedented status, the equal of God himself. No one ever speaks of or defends the need for Christians to believe in this startling transformation of a human man. This is undoubtedly the single greatest silence that resounds throughout the early Christian record.

ź 74. - Ephesians 2:17-18

Is verse 17 a reference to Jesusí teaching ministry on earth? Instead of taking the opportunity to refer to some of those teachings (such as Mt. 5:23 which speaks of "peace" with oneís brothers, or the message that is to be brought to "all nations"), the writer quotes Isaiah 57:19, which supposedly speaks of an end-time reconciliation between peoples. Even the preliminary words about preaching good news is based on Isaiah 52:7.

This passage is not a reference to an historical event, but an interpretation of scripture, an expression of the early Christian idea (found notably in Hebrews) that the Son inhabited the spiritual world of the scriptures and spoke from there. Another common idea was that Christ had "come" through his revelation by God to Christian prophets. He was now active in the world and speaking through those prophets (the verb euangelidzo, to proclaim good news, is used to describe the work of apostles like Paul). Verse 18 also reflects the role of the spiritual Christ in providing a channel to the Father.

In this connection we might ask why the writer would have passed up Gospel sayings of Jesus about himself as providing access to God, such as John 10:7, "I am the door," or 14:16, "No one comes to the Father except by me," or Luke 10:22, "No one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

(This passage will be dealt with again in the Appendix.)

ź 75. - Ephesians 2:20-21

A telling omission here. The foundation of Christian belief and the movement itself is the work of apostles and prophets like Paul. This entirely ignores the career of Jesus himself. Christ Jesus as the "foundation stone" is simply the object of the faith laid by the apostles. If Jesus of Nazareth had lived and begun the movement in his name, no Christian writer could have failed to designate Jesus as the initial, primary builder of the church. And where is Jesusí own quote of Psalm 118:22, referring to himself: "the stone which the builders rejected has become the main cornerstone," as recorded in Mark 12:10?

C. L. Mitton (Ephesians, p.113) suggests that the meaning of akrogoniaios (cornerstone) in LXX Isaiah 28:16 determines its meaning in Ephesians, but this merely serves to show that the idea has been derived not from historical tradition but from scriptural exegesis. Mitton also suggests that the apostles and prophets are to be regarded as part of the foundation as well, alongside Christ, but there is no justification for this in the text.

ź 76. - Ephesians 3:4-6 (+7-11)

Here we see the sole mechanism of revelation at work in the preaching of apostles like Paul, the revelation of the mystery, the secret, about Christ. It is not on passed-on tradition going back to Jesus himself and his immediate followers that Christian apostles base their knowledge and authority, but on the action of the spirit sent from God. It is true that, while other passages, like Colossians 2:2, speak of Godís long-undisclosed mystery as being Christ himself, here (and compare Col. 1:27) the secret is narrowed to something specific, namely the inclusion of the gentiles in the redemptive effects of Godís salvation through Christ. This specificity is often appealed to as rendering the thought valid within the context of an historical Jesus, on the assumption that the inclusion of the gentiles was not an identifiable mark of Jesusí own preaching.

But is this really a legitimate Ďoutí? Would apostles preaching such a doctrine not seek to find its legitimacy and precedent in the preaching of Jesus, to anchor it in the example of Jesus welcoming the sinner, having contact with non-Jews, etc.? It is virtually impossible that they would not, for sectarian impulses are always to give the sectís important doctrines the strongest possible foundation and authority. Indeed, it is unthinkable that in all the references to revealing the secret of Christ, whatever its nature, no Christian writer would ever express the thought that the first and primary revealer of such secrets had been Christ himself during his ministry on earth. This silence is a devastating one.

Besides, what of Jesus directives (Mt. 28:19, Acts 1:8) to go and preach to all the nations, an instruction which would automatically have encompassed Ephesiansí idea here that the gentiles were to be included in the redemptive promise? How could this writer not possess any tradition of such a directive (even if not an historical one) by Jesus? Mitton (p.123) states (based on the Gospels) that "this breaking down of barriers (between Jew and gentile) had been the mark of Jesus in his life and teachings," but if modern scholars can recognize the obvious, can we believe that Paul and other early writers did not, or chose to ignore it?

[ Consider verses 10-11: "(Godís hidden purpose was concealed for long ages) 10in order that now, through the church, the wisdom of God in all its varied forms might be made known to the powers and authorities in the realm of heaven, 11in accord with his age-long purpose which he effected in Christ Jesus our Lord." Again, the long-hidden wisdom of God in all its forms is revealed not by an historical Jesus in his life and ministry, but only now, in Paulís time, by apostles like himself and "the church." The role of Christ in verse 11 relates to that "age-long purpose" and not specifically to the present time, in which (as in v.10) Christ plays no role alongside the church that reveals Godís wisdom. Mitton (p.128) insists on interpreting the "in Christ" as referring to the actions or example of Jesus of Nazareth in his earthly life, but it better fits the general meaning of this kind of phrase as used throughout the epistles: God is the agent, Christ is the Ďenabling forceí he employs for both redemption and intermediary communication, all of it within a mythological and spiritual setting in keeping with the philosophy of the time.

And who, in these verses, is the recipient of that long-hidden wisdom of God? If there is any passage which stops us short and indicates that the writer is operating in a different realm of thought from our own, it is this one. The revelation of the wisdom of God is being aimed at the rulers and authorities in the realms of heaven, so that they will become aware of Godís plan and the worldís destiny! In other words, the hostile spirits and wicked powers are real and key elements in the world view and theology of the New Testament writers. (Mittonís "rather surprisingly" is an understatement, and his suggestion that "this may have meant little more to the writer than it can mean to us, except as rhetorical flourish," reflects the inability of many a modern commentator to perceive and accept the gap that exists between the ancient mind and ours, and with it how shaky are all the assumptions and mindsets we often bring to the originators of the Western worldís faith. See also Ephesians 6:11-12, #85.) ]

ź 77. - Ephesians 4:1-2

No reference to Jesus here as an example of such behavior, or to the teachings which contained such recommendations. Yet Matthew (11:29) records a saying by Jesus in which he describes himself using precisely these two words: humble and gentle. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." One might expect this to be a well known saying in the Jesus tradition, one that provoked controversy for its audacity when it was first spoken. Yet the writer passes up the chance to quote it, to reinforce his own urging by pointing out that Jesus had described himself with these selfsame words, providing the ideal example. Even if the saying itself was not widespread, surely the tradition that Jesus was "meek and mild" enjoyed wide currency.

In reality, this is a wisdom saying, similar to those placed in the mouth of personified Wisdom in documents like Proverbs, and was eventually placed in the mouth of the Gospel Jesus.

ź 78. - Ephesians 4:8-12

As extremely revealing passage. The writer uses the Psalm quote (68:18) for two purposes. One is to Ďproveí that Christ descended to earth, since the act of Ďascendingí on high implied that he had done so from a lower level. (Some translators point out that "lower parts of the earth" could mean the underworld, but this is not likely since the writer speaks of Christ acting among men, not in Sheol.) But why would he need to appeal to such Ďproofí if Christ had lived a recent life in full view of all? This strange, even bizarre, thought suggests that what was lacking in the writerís mind was the historical knowledge that indeed Jesus had been on earth.

And what had he done while in that lower location? In fact, the writer seems not to be trying to imply a Ďlifeí at all, no physical presence on earth. Certainly there is no description of physical events, let alone Gospel details. Rather, he is concerned with Christís bestowing of gifts which are spiritual in nature (and bestowed through spiritual channels), namely the calling of various people to roles in the spread of the faith, in the building up of the body of Christ, which is an entirely mystical concept. The gifts enumerated betray no sense of the Gospel career of Jesus of Nazareth, but fit the concept that the spirit of God or Christ had implanted inspirational qualifications for a call to Christian community service. This is the second purpose of the Psalm quote, to indicate that Christ had come down to bestow these giftsóalthough to do so the writer reverses the actual content of the Psalmís verse, where the figure addressed is receiving gifts from men. Such were the liberties of midrash.

Note that the significance for the writer of the "captives in his train" relates to the cosmic powers of the heavens, over which Christ is said to triumph through his spirit world sacrifice. (Compare Col. 2:15 and, as always, 1 Cor. 2:8.)

ź 79. - Ephesians 4:23-24

Here the writer seems to be unaware of Jesusí teaching that we must be "born anew," as in John 3:3.

ź 80. - Ephesians 4:26

The writer fails to bolster his admonition by quoting the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:22): "Anyone who nurses anger against his brother must be brought to judgment." One of the ironies found in most commentaries, such as that of Mitton on Ephesians, is their unfailing habit of faithfully recording such Gospel parallels without asking why, in contrast, the writers of these epistles pervasively fail to point to Jesus as the source of such ethical directives.

ź 81. - Ephesians 4:32

Here, too, the writer fails to quote not only Jesusí teachings on the subject of forgiveness (e.g., Mt. 6:14: "For if you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your heavenly Father will also forgive you," Mt. 18:21, etc.), but Jesusí own exemplary words from the cross: "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk. 23:34). The latter would have been a powerful illustration of forgiveness under even the most dire of circumstances, and if such traditions and teachings existed, there can be no doubt that the writer of Ephesians would have called attention to them.

ź 82. - Ephesians 5:2

Yet another passage which urges love on the believer without noting that this had been a pillar of Jesusí teaching on earth. We might also take note of the atmosphere of the writerís reference to the crucifixion. It lacks all sense of the Gospel portrayal of that event as the ignominious execution of an innocent man, an evil deed accompanied by betrayal and taunts and false accusations, all of it provoking Godís divine wrath. (Compare the similar lack of Gospel atmosphere in Romans 8:32.)

ź 83. - Ephesians 5:8

Would not Jesusí own description of the believer from the Sermon on the Mount (5:14-16) be apt here: "You are light for all the world . . . and you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in heaven"? Or Johnís words of Jesus (8:12): "No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life." (Compare 12:36.)

The writer of Ephesians can know nothing about any teachings of Jesus to so consistently fail to appeal to them in the many and varied contexts of ethical admonition throughout his letter. In this, of course, he joins company with every other epistle writer.

ź 84. - Ephesians 6:8

Did Jesus not teach that the good will be rewarded? "Your father who sees what is done . . . will reward you" (Mt. 6:4), "that man will not go unrewarded" (Mt. 10:42), "the Son of Man will give each man the due reward for what he has done" (Mt. 16:27), and so on. How much energy would it have taken for some of these writers, some of the time, to give us a simple "as Jesus said" or "as Jesus taught us"?

ź 85. - Ephesians 6:11-12

One of the resounding silences in both Ephesians and Colossians is their failure to point out the victories which Christ on earth achieved against the forces of darkness. Both these epistles illustrate the ancient worldís preoccupation with inimical spirit powers (which they saw as inhabiting the very air around them) and forces of Fate, and the evil effects these had on human lives. This fear of demons, and the search for ways to neutralize their activities through magic and the invocation of protective deities, was especially strong in pagan society. The central declaration about Jesus in both Colossians and Ephesians is that he is such a deity, that his death has rescued mankind "from the domain of darkness" (Col. 1:13), that "every power and authority (i.e., the spirits) in the universe has been subjected to him" (2:10), and that a universe fractured by the power of those spirits has been reunified by Christís sacrifice (Eph. 1:10, cf. 3:10). Ephesians 6:11-12 (above) demonstrates this obsession clearly. Many Christians even today perpetuate a similar paranoia in their emphasis on Satan.

Every salvation religion of the day sought to fill this need for "armor" and reassurance against the hostile powers. Any savior god worth his or her salt had to possess power over such spirits and be willing to exercise it on their followersí behalf; Isis, for example, held a prominent role as just such a protector. But what of the great benefit Christ possessed over all the others? How are we to explain the failure of Ephesians and Colossians to point to dramatic, historical evidence which the Gospels record, evidence that Jesus did indeed possess and had demonstrated power over the demons and devices of the devil? For he had shown it even while he was on earth. The unclean spirits had surrendered to expulsion from the sick; they had cried for mercy. Even Jesusí apostles had been given the power to drive out devils. Yet these two letters have not a word to say about such healing exorcisms. Nor do they hold up Jesusí declaration (Mk. 3:21-7) that his purpose was to overthrow Satan and all his house.

Given the pagan preoccupation with evil spirits, the claim that Paul had felt no interest in Jesusí life and deeds is thoroughly discredited, for this aspect of Jesusí career would have been an immense asset to the appeal of his message, and of great interest to his listeners and converts. More broadly speaking, Christ in his incarnation would have enjoyed a dramatic advantage over his mythical Graeco-Roman rivals: for unlike them, he had recently been on earth in flesh and blood, seen by countless thousands, had dealt with evil forces first-hand, on humanityís own turf. In his personal dealings Jesus had shown compassion, tolerance, generosity, all those things men and women thirsted for in confronting a hostile, uncaring world. It is simply unthinkable that Paul and the writers of such letters as Colossians and Ephesians would choose to remain silent on all these advantages of the human Jesus when presenting to their readers (gentile and Jew as well) their agent of salvation.


ź 86. - Philippians 1:6

This statement in its few words sums up the picture of the early Christian movement. Communities of believers have sprung up in various centers, responding to the preaching of prophets like Paul, through the power of the Spirit sent from God. (The "One" in the verse above is God, as the sense of the sentence makes certain.) The concept that Jesus himself had begun anything is completely missing from the landscape of the epistles.

Whether Jesus had had any contact with the Philippians or not, whether he was long dead before the Philippians were converted or not, the image of the Son recently on earth as the force behind the origin and growth of the faith could not help but be present in the minds of preachers and believers alike. And yet it is consistently God who is presented as the mover and Ďpersonalityí behind the spread of Christianity. Christ Jesus may have provided the sacrifice, but as the above verse would indicate, there is an unmistakable sense throughout the epistles that he was not to put in an appearance on the earthly scene until the day he arrived from heaven to bring about the judgment and transformation of the world.

ź ó Philippians 3:10 - See "Top 20" #20


ź 87. - Colossians 1:15-20

Rivaled only by Hebrews 1:2-3, there is no more cosmic and exalted description of the Son to be found in the New Testament epistles than this 'christological hymní of Colossians. The very image of God and bearing his fullness, pre-existent with God before creation, the instrument of that creation and serving as its ruler and sustaining power to preserve its very existence. But the hymn writer has left out any mention of the incarnation, the identity of the man who had been this cosmic Son on earth, let alone anything he had done while in that human form. The writer, along with every other epistle author, has also neglected to explain how a mere man, a crucified criminal, could have been raised to such a lofty height, especially within a Jewish milieu, where separating God from all things human was an obsession. No defense of such an outlandish and blasphemous elevation of Jesus of Nazareth is ever offered.

Raised from the deadóbut when and where is not stated, and its purpose is to have Christ achieve primacy in all things, a mythological concept in a spirit-world setting. As for being head of the church, Paulís genuine letters show that this is intended in a purely mystical sense. Why would all of these hymn writers (cf. Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, Ephesians 1:19-23) consistently remain silent on all aspects of the Sonís earthly identity and activities?

The answer, of course, is that this languageómost graphically here and in Hebrews 1óbelongs to the primary philosophical concept of the age, the Son as the knowable image and emanation of a transcendent God and an intermediary force between deity and humanity, an entirely spiritual being. This concept is reflected in the Greek Logos and Jewish personified Wisdom. (See Supplementary Article No. 5: Tracing the Christian Lineage in Alexandria.) This is why the hymn describes the Son in terms of what he is, a present, eternal entity, and not with any sense of a human figure of the recent past upon whom this colossal theological superstructure has been heaped. (See also the section "A Cosmic Force" in my review of Burton Mackís book, Who Wrote the New Testament?)

ź 88. - Colossians 1:25-27

A passage similar to Ephesians 3:4-6 (#76) in which God reveals a long-hidden secret to apostles like Paul through revelation. As in the Ephesians case, the secret is narrowed, this time to the mystical, Pauline concept that Christ dwells in the believer, giving promise of future glory. Again the point must be made that even if we have no record of Christ having preached a specific doctrine like this (though some of Jesusí pronouncements in the Fourth Gospel come close in spirit), the tendency would have been to impute such a thing to him or to find pointers to it in the things he did say. Moreover, the stark past-present dichotomyóa secret long-hidden throughout past time, followed by its disclosure in the present, an idea found throughout the Pauline corpusócasts not a glance at any intervening career of the Son on earth, much less makes room for Jesusí role in revealing anything about himself.

The next passage also deals with Godís revealed secret of Christ, and this time there is no narrowing of the mystery.

ź 89. - Colossians 2:2-3

Here the secret long-hidden by God is not narrowed to a specific element. It is Christ himself who has been revealed in the present time. No thought is expressed that the Son had been revealed by the Son himself, recently incarnated. And the dwelling of Godís wisdom and knowledge within the Son is expressed in the present tense, when we might expect to find a past tense, expressing the natural thought that such things had dwelled in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, the present implies a spiritual, eternal being, the intermediary Son of contemporary philosophy.

ź 90. - Colossians 2:8-10

As in the previous passage, God is found in Christ in the present and not in the past in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And if, as many judge (see Bauerís Lexicon), the "elemental spirits" (stoicheia) of verse 8 refers to the divine entities which the ancients believed inhabited the heavenly bodies and certain aspects of the physical world, where is the contrast we should expect the writer to make between such spiritual entities and Christ? Namely, that the latter had taken on humanity and lived a life on earth.

In verse 10 the writer, like the writer of Ephesians (6:12, #85), fails to mention Jesusí ministry in which as miracle-worker and exorcist he demonstrated for all to see that he did indeed have power over the evil spirits. Such power is referred to in verse 15: "There (on the cross) Christ stripped the demonic rulers and authorities of their power over him, and in his own triumph made a public show of them." [Translator's New Testament; whether Christ or God is to be considered the subject of this sentence is uncertain.] But it is a power clearly exercised in the spiritual dimension, supporting the view that the entire crucifixion took place in the spirit realm.

ź 91. - Colossians 2:11

Both Nativity stories (Matthew and Luke) are probably products of the early 2nd century, but if Jesus had lived, there would of course have been the automatic expectation that eight days after his birth he had been circumcised, like all Jewish males. Thus the words of this verse might well have confused those readers who always assumed that "physically" was precisely the way Jesus was circumcised.

Though the point may at first glance seem fatuous, it actually bears some consideration. For if the Pauline outlook advocated the rejection of the circumcision requirement for gentiles ("There is no such thing as Jew or Greek . . .") in favor of being "in Christ Jesus," one might expect that some accommodation would have to be made for the physical discrepancy between the believer and the historical Jesus. At the very least, we would not expect a Pauline writer to come up with a metaphor which not only ignored the discrepancy, but implied that it did not exist.

ź 92. - Colossians 3:2-4

A passage which vividly conveys the sense that Christ had never been seen by anyone, had never been to earth. The believerís true destiny, his new life, is "hidden" along with Christ who dwells with God. Both are to "be revealed" when Christ arrives from heaven. In the orthodox interpretation, this would surely be an odd choice of wordóphaneroo: reveal oneself or be revealed, become visible, appear, usually entailing the manifestation or the making known of something not hitherto known or experienced. Since the same verb is used in both halves of verse 3óthe Ďrevealingí of Christ and the Ďrevealingí of the believerís true lifeóone can assume they have a parallel meaning. Since the believerís destined new life is something which has not yet put in an appearance, the implication is that Christ himself has yet to do so as well.

If Christ had recently been on earth and left it, what writer would not simply have said the equivalent of "return" or "come back," some phrase which was cognizant of the fact that this would be a second coming? Ironically, most Lexicons specify that one definition of this verb is its reference to Christís Second Advent, but the examples given are of passages like this one in the epistles, where such a meaning is read into the word based on Gospel preconceptions. In actual fact, none of the quoted passages (here in Col. 3:4, 1 Pet. 5:4, 1 Jn 2:28 & 3:2óthough the latter refer to God) contain any suggestion of a previous Advent, making such a definition circular and without foundation.

While phaneroo can mean to Ďput in an appearance,í it is also one of several Ďrevelationí words used throughout the epistles that clearly speak of the Ďmaking knowní of Christ in the present time (eg, 1 Peter 1:20) which, if one sets aside Gospel preconceptions, tell us that this is a revelation of knowledge about the Son and Savior in a spiritual way, with no physical or visible presence, past or present, involved.

ź 93. - Colossians 3:9-10

Another passage suggesting Jesusí teaching that one must be born anew (e.g., John 3:3), yet the writer makes no mention of it. We might also note that the "image" of Christ must not be too strong in the writerís mind for him to pass up having the reader put on the image of Jesus, rather than God.

ź 94. - Colossians 3:12-14

What perversity could have led all the epistle writers to speak in terms of the qualities Jesus was reputed to have possessed on earth, to speak of the teachings he was recorded to have spoken, and yet consistently fail to make even a passing attribution of such things to him?

Does "the Lord" in verse 13 refer to God or to Christ? The Expositorís Greek Testament observes that "there is no reason for referring kurios to God, since Jesus when on earth forgave sins." But that is reading the Gospels into it, and in fact here the term is almost certainly a reference to God. Not only has the writer just spoken of God in the preceding verse, he speaks of God forgiving the readersí sins in 2:13. Even 1:14 has God doing the forgiving of sins "in the Son," the same idea as that expressed in Ephesians 4:32. One might also point out that since Jesus on no occasion forgave the sins of the Colossians, the writer would not have tended to express it thus. Jesusí sacrifice made forgiveness possible, but its source was God.

To File No. 6: 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus

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