Friday, July 06, 2007

Refuting "The Jesus Puzzle"--Part Two

Part1 is here. Intro is here. This is a work in progress. I will add more to these articles as I have the time.

Throughout Doherty's article, The Jesus Puzzle, he consistently quotes the Pauline Epistles as his source text and the departure point for all his observations regarding a historical Jesus and the development of Christianity from within the New Testament. Within the article itself, he does not seem to question Paul or his writings. That is not the same as saying that he believes them, as far as their theological content, but that he seems willing to accept them as generally intact, historical letters, from a person named Paul, to various churches in the region. Doherty gleans them for supposed meaning and uses them as a measurement for the dichotomy between the physical, human person of Jesus, and the spiritual, divine aspect of Jesus. In his mind the two are vastly different, and Paul's reliance on the Supernatural Jesus is evidence that the historical Jesus never existed.

This reliance on Paul, but the rejection of the gospels and Acts, presents a problem for Doherty's ideas. If he accepts Paul's writings as authentic and trustworthy in most cases--though he always tends to discount sections which most obviously disprove his points--then he has an intellectual dilemma. How do you rely on an author's texts, yet refuse to believe anything historical that he actually says?

For instance, Doherty writes in Piece No. 3 :

How do Paul and other apostles like himself know of their Son and Redeemer? Is
it through the words and deeds of Jesus on earth? Through traditions about him
going back to those who had witnessed his ministry? No, Paul has learned of the
Son through revelation and scripture. "God chose to reveal his Son through me,"
he says in Galatians 1:16.
Doherty's contention is that Paul never learned anything about Jesus from actual eyewitnesses, or through earthly knowledge. He takes Galatians 1:16 out of context, portraying it as an admission from Paul that all his knowledge of Jesus came from a vision and nothing else. Acts recounts the story of Saul/Paul on the Damascus road, but Doherty has removed that avenue of explanation. Further into his paper he claims:

Acts, too, as an historical witness to Jesus or the beginnings of the
Christian movement, cannot be relied upon. The more recent tendency is to see
Acts as a second century product, probably of Roman provenance, highly
tendentious and written for the purpose of creating a picture of Christian
origins traceable to a unified body of apostles in Jerusalem who were followers
of an historical Jesus. Much of it is sheer fabrication, and highly incompatible
with information found in the letters of Paul
.[emphasis mine]

So, we have the reason that he rejects Acts; it doesn't line up with Paul's epistles, in his opinion.

Let's take a look at that claim. Acts relates Paul's life and ministry highlights. It presents Saul/Paul as a persecutor of Christians, even being present during Stephen's stoning

Acts 7:58b
Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Acts 8:1 and 3
And Saul was there, giving approval to his death.......

But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house he dragged off men and women and put them in prison

Paul writes in his epistles:

1 Corinthians 15:9
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

Galatians 1:13
For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.

He is portrayed as seeing a vision of Jesus, being converted on the road to Damascus, and spending some time there after his conversion teaching that Jesus was the Son of God.(Acts 9:1-30)

Paul relates the same timeline for events in Galatians 1:14-2:10, detailing his interactions with Peter specifically.

Once we begin to see that there is quite a correlation between Acts and Paul's epistles, even if Doherty still views it as a "sheer fabrication," he still must explain what he thinks of Paul. Paul tells us he knew Peter and other apostles. Paul tells us that he was excelling in Judaism, which means he would have been very aware of any controversy within the religion and any events related to it. He might not have believed in Jesus, but he had surely heard about him in his studying and time in Jerusalem. Paul also reiterates throughout his epistles that he is not making up his story, but that it is true and factual

The ultimate question for Doherty is what he believes about Paul.

In order to throw out Acts and the Gospels on Paul's supposed "silence," he would have to cast Paul in the role of manipulative liar. If Paul is a manipulative liar, then you could hardly look to his works as proof that there was no historical Jesus. Instead, throwing out Paul's epistles would eliminate the so-called "problem of silence" that Doherty thinks is so damning to the historical Jesus.

So, which is it? Are Paul's letters authentic and trustworthy? If they are, then how does Doherty reconcile the historical facts within them and Paul's claims of knowing the original apostles of Jesus--eyewitnesses to Jesus' earthly life? Was Paul duped? That hardly seems believable for someone who was so heavily invested in persecuting the church before his conversion. It also seems highly unlikely that Paul would abandon all his striving in Judaism for a legend he heard passed along by, what would have to be, liars and con men if Jesus never existed.

It's late and I'm tired again. I will edit this tomorrow with a little more fleshing out of the Acts/Paul correlation. Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to add! :)


Stephen said...

My goodness. Two minds! I will read what you have written. I am going a critique also. Cheers, S

terri said...

Hi Stephen.

I am not sure what your comment "two minds" means. I keep wanting to get back to this subject, but haven't found the time I need to really research and write about it.

I still think that Paul is the key to the New Testament's validity and want to develop that more.

Thanks for stopping by!

I'm on hiatus for a few days if you stop back around.