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Did Paul know much of Jesus’s biography?
Was Paul relatively proficient when it came to knowing Jesus's biographical details? Was he familiar with Jesus’s teachings and the broad narrative of Jesus’s life, as well as several anecdotal stories and the most popular miracle accounts attributed to him by purported witnesses?
New Testament historians agree
- Richard Bauckham: “Allusions to Jesus traditions in Paul's writings are in fact much more numerous than an older stereotype of Paul allowed.” [Note: By “tradition” NT scholars mean something like a corporate memory that can be passed down and preserved.] [Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2008),-.]
- David Wenham: “The sheer quantity of evidence assembled is impressive. Indeed, if Paul knew all of the gospel traditions which we have noted, then he knew most of the story of Jesus as the Gospels present it (at least in content, if not in order)—from the infancy of Jesus to his baptism, his ministry, and on to his death, resurrection, and ascension” [Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Eerdmans, 1995), —.]
- James Dunn: “it can be demonstrated with a fair degree of probability, then, that Paul both knew and cared about the ministry of Jesus [even] prior to his passion and death… [and] that he recalled, alluded to, and was himself influenced in his own theology and conduct my important features of the Jesus tradition.” [The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Eerdmans, 2006), 649.]
- Jerome Murphy O'Connor: “Recent studies, moreover suggest that Paul knew not just the dominical saying but the context in which it appears in the synoptic [Mt, Mk, Lk] tradition.” [Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford, 1996), 92.]
Paul’s letters report and allude to much known Jesus biography
See this page to explore the evidence, e.g.:
This is relevant because:
A) Knowing these bits of Jesus’s biography (geneology, status, sayings/teachings, ethical conduct, miracles, crucifixion details etc.) just is what it means for Paul to know Jesus biography generally.
B) Each known detail implies Paul has source(s) of knowledge on Jesus biography (and so likely knows more than he reports.)
Paul aimed to know Jesus biography
See this page to explore three arguments:
- Examples abound of Jesus-bio that Paul wanted to know.
- Paul visited Jerusalem/Peter in order to know it, and that took some amount of dedication.
- Paul had clear reasons to want to know Jesus-bio, suggesting that he would go.
Paul's aiming to know Jesus-biography shows that Paul did know Jesus biography because witness-based Jesus biography was pervasive, especially for Paul; it was hard to avoid and easy to acquire.1
- We know Jesus biography was pervasive for Paul for three reasons:
• In general witness-based Jesus-biography was pervasive. • Paul was well-connected to the Jerusalem chuch (e.g. often there visiting ministry partners [like Peter, like James, etc.] and vice versa).
• Barnabas was as a leading Jerusalem church member, and Paul and Barnabas were ministry partners (e.g. they co-pastored a church for over a year).
Paul got tons of Jesus biography from the Jerusalem church
Rather than getting it primarily from other sources, the evidence we have suggests that Paul was overloaded with information on the historical Jesus that he received specifically from the apostolic/Jerusalem church (e.g. from the apostle Peter himself).
See this page to explie these three arguments:
- Examples abound of info-bits we can tell Paul got from Jerusalem.
- Paul's teachings matched the Jerusalem churches , and this is unlikely to be a coincidence.
- Paul aimed to know Jesus biography and the Jerusalem church was the natural place to go (since he saw them as the experts).
If Paul got lots of Jesus-biography from the Jerusalem church, it would count as evidence for Paul's knowling lots of Jesus biography because the Jerusalem church was quite knowledgeable. It is where the apostles and primary witnesses resided.
In 2 Cor 5:16 Paul says we don't know Jesus “according to flesh”
2 Corinthians 5:16 — ”from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.”1
No, Paul is simply saying he no longer sees Jesus from a pre-conversion point of view.
- Notably, it is precisely this verse which most motivated the influential R. Bultmann’s skepticism of Paul’s biographical knowledge of “the Jesus of history.” Bultmann’s belief in turn seeded a generation of skepticism the echoes of which reverberate into the present.