C. Paul, the Skeleton Key
What’s so important about Paul? Why not “Peter, the Skeleton key?
- We know Paul wrote Galatians, every New Testament critic in the relevant field will grant that
- Galatians can be dated to 49AD
- Testimony within Galatians takes us to within 18 months of the cross
- What did Paul receive?
This is the train of thought we will develop here as we progress with Paul during this period of the Oral New Testament.
Paul Wrote Galatians
Of course you can see the article on Galatians, but I’lll give you a brief summary here. Galatians 1:1-2 Paul the Apostle declares himself as the author, we know which Paul it is as not only does he call himself an Apostle, but also he builds on the developed testimony of his in Acts 9 (Internal evidence).
Scholars also argue overwhelmingly that Paul wrote Galatians, even the leading critical bases in scholarship. These reasons are due to the style and themes which are familiar throughout the Pauline letters. George S. Duncan described the authenticity of Paul as its author as “unquestioned… In every line it betrays its origin as a genuine letter of Paul.” Even popular sceptical scholarly critics like Bart Ehrman defends the authenticity of Paul.
- Longenecker, Richard (2015). Galatians, p lviii
- Duncan, George S. (1934). The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, p. xviii
- Holladay, Carl R. (2005). A Critical Introduction to the New Testament. p. 463–66
There are some telltale signs when to date this letter. Again see my article on this, but for summary:
- In Gal 1:17, Paul describes his stay in Arabia and Damascus after his conversion.
- He says that after three years he went to Jerusalem (Gal 1:19), an event corresponding to Acts 9:26-29, which we have dated to 36 A.D
- Paul then returned to Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30, Gal 1:21).
- Paul’s next return to Jerusalem was 14 years later, with Barnabas (Acts 11:30, Gal 2:1),
- in 49 A.D. Paul’s first missionary journey followed, and it was during this journey that he founded the Galatian churches.
- This was followed by the controversy over requirements for gentile believers that led to the Jerusalem Council of 50 A.D. (Paul does not mention the council, and the problems which would be discussed in the council are still in contention which would lead to the council, see Acts15. Considering he won his case at the council, he would have appealed to this authority in the letter if it had taken place)
- Galatians then is dated 49-50AD
How Galatians closes the gap
I might of given the game away slightly in the previous paragraph, but I’ll illustrate it clearer and further with an illustration and the maths from Gary Habermas and the other leading New Testament scholars specialising in the field.
Firstly it is useful to note that the critical scholars, those with a sceptical viewpoint of the Christian belief allow 7 of Paul’s 13 letters through historical checks. They are Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians & Philemon, they’re good with these.
The books and chapters of interest to us is Galatians 1-2 and 1 Corinthians 15. See below.
1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.1 Corinthians 15
15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
1Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.
6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.Galatians 1:15 – 2:9
As a reminder scholars grant that Paul wrote Galatians, they also grant 1 Corinthians was written in the 50’s (we’ll get to that).
1 Corinthians 15:3: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance” This is a statement that leads into what’s known as a pre-Pauline creed and they help answer the question “What did earliest preaching consist before there was a single New Testament book? What did the written form look like during this period of informal and controlled Oral Tradition?.
Well there are many of these creeds which we’ll get to in a later article, but the basics is, pre-Pauline creeds are essentially small memorisation texts that existed before Paul came to the Lord (Paul’s conversion is in Acts 9, Acts 1 is considered 2-3 years before this so the creedal formats are produced prior to his conversion). If this is when Paul got his material, then this creed immediately goes back to 2-3 years after the resurrection.
Every scholar (nearly all) think Paul wrote 1 Corinthians around 55AD (+25 years after resurrection). Paul writes “15 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance”
When did Paul go to the city of Corinth? 51-52AD we know this because Paul mentions by name the Greek equivalent of the Major of Corinth and we know from history they served only one year terms. Paul mentioned them by name, Gallio. We have since recovered the historical artefact known as the Gallio inscription, giving the name and when he was in office and under which ruler.
The scholarly consensus now is that Paul received the material in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 within five years of the resurrection. Even critics grant this, but whats the math behind this?
- Paul comes to Jesus (+2 years)
- Paul says Galatians 1:17-18 he spent three years in Arabia to commune with the Lord which I’m sure he learned and studied there
- Then he went to Jerusalem afterwards and spent 15 days with Peter and James (+3 years)
- 2yrs + 3yrs = 5 years
Even sceptics like Bart Ehrman grant that Paul got this material about 5 years after the resurrection and that he spent 15 days with Peter and James in Jerusalem.
We continue the story 14 years later in Galatians 2:1 (48AD). Peter is still in Jerusalem with James and John. “I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain”.
Well that’s crazy, he waited 14 years! The Gospel always consisted of Deity, Death & Resurrection and interchangeably other details mentioned depending on the speech/audience. But what is crucial to this statement is the part 2 in verse 6: 6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.
- Paul wanted to make sure he’d not been preaching the Gospel message in vein
- They verify his message and added nothing to it
- They then go out with the Apostles blessing (Galatians 2:9)
Now verses 3b-7 material is an oral creed. Before Paul had this “I have you what I was given” creed, James and Peter would have it before him.
How do we know this is a creed? Well if you think of a time you wrote an essay and you wanted to quote someone, it doesn’t always fit smoothly with your writing style, like someone in year 7 pasting in a quote from Stephen Hawking, the style varies so that it stands out. In this case the author tells you “I gave you what I was given” indicating he’s about to quote an scholars have identified the style is pre-Pauline, so it’s a source material for him.
Now Paul received this creed, and in the Greek it reads with 2 stanzas, it’s got a memorable style, it’s designed to be taken in and repeated. To form a creed such as this would take a while to standardise it (like preparing a song, you have the idea but you don’t have the form).
So here’s the journey of 1 Corinthians 15:3b-7
- Paul receives the creed early on
- Peter and James had it before him (Paul didn’t meet them until +5)
- It takes a while to put their testimony into a standard communicable memorable form
- The material on which the creed is based goes back to the cross
- The most respected scholars from across all persuasions Christian, agnostic, atheist
When do scholars believe these creeds were formed?
One of the biggest scholars in New Testament studies, James D.G. Dunn states that the latest the stanzas in the creed of 1 Corinthians 15 were formed is months after the Resurrection. See his large Volume “Jesus Remembered, p855”
Larry Hurtado of Edinburgh University says “It is widely accepted, however, that the tradition Paul recites in 15:1-7 must go back to the Jerusalem Church.” (Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ, 168) and the Jerusalem church was where it all began, before they’d ever left the area. So what Larry is inciting here is this creed was there from the beginning.
Both are invocations a pre-Pentecostal creed or at least around the time of Pentecost, and why not? This was the central Christian message.
Richard Baukham, Larry Jurtardo and James D.G. Dunn, the big three in the field with the majority of the field backing him say these three points came out from day 1:
- Jesus died
- He was raised from the dead
- Jesus’ deity
I get the first, understand the second, but where did the third one come from?
Well, the first Christians sang about him in another one of these oral creeds.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.Romans 10:9-10
And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be savedJoel 2:32a
- Lord in the Old Testament in this instance is Jehovah, that’s what Lord means in Joel 2:32
- Romans 10:9-10 is a another pre-Pauline creed recognised by New Testament scholars
- Where is says “Jesus is Lord” Lord here means Jehovah
- Jesus is Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament
That’s an incredibly high view of Christ, that he was God, Died and rose. These are at the centre of the Christian belief from the very start about Jesus of Nazareth.
The New Testament documents preserve the life and teachings through Jesus Christ. There are trails we can follow to discover their origins and have a high level of confidence in what we have now is what they had at the beginning. In the next article we will assess these Oral creeds Paul used in more depth.