Thursday, April 9, 2009

Dennis Ingolfsland

Throughout history there have been those who thought that Paul was the corrupter of Jesus. In other words, they see Jesus as just a good Jewish teacher, or reformer, or revolutionary, or mystic (the critics can’t seem to agree on which one) but they agree that he was not the Messiah, Savior or Son of God that Paul proclaimed him to be. Some deny that Jesus even thought of himself as Messiah, Savior or Son of God. The point of this essay is to show that what the Gospels say Jesus taught about himself and his message, is the same thing that Paul taught about Jesus and Jesus’ message.

The Christology of Jesus

Christology is the theological study of Christ. There is no question that Paul claimed Jesus was the Son of God, Savior, and Israel’s long awaited Christ (Messiah). Some of the more radical critics, however, like to deny that Jesus ever thought of himself in such lofty terms.[1] When it is pointed out that the gospels present Jesus as Messiah, for example, some critics will say that Jesus himself never claimed to be the Messiah or Son of God, that’s just a claim the Gospel writers make about him.

But this is simply not true. In John 4:25, for example, Jesus was speaking to a Samaritan woman by a well when she told Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming (he who is called the Christ): When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am he.” Jesus was clearly claiming to be the Messiah.

The critics, however, will say that you can’t really trust the Gospel of John because it was written so late (90’s AD) and is so theological…as if being theological means it can’t be historical! The same critics, however, will often rely heavily on the historian Josephus for historical background to the time in which Jesus lived, but Josephus wrote his book, Antiquities of the Jews about the same time John wrote his gospel!

Anyway, the Gospel of John is not the only gospel in which Jesus claims to be Messiah, Savior or Son of God. In Mark 14:61-62, when Jesus was on trial, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (i.e. the Son of God. Pious Jews would often use another word like “blessed,” “heaven” or “Power” to avoid saying the name God). Jesus responded very clearly saying, “I am.” Nothing ambiguous about that, and most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was the earliest of the four Gospels to be written.

Jesus continued, “And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power [God], and coming with the clouds of heaven.” [2] This is an undeniable reference to a passage in Daniel 7 in which Daniel has a vision about “one like a son of man” who “came to the Ancient of Days” (God) “with the clouds of heaven.” God gave to this son of man “dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away and his kingdom shall not be destroyed.”[3]

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus claims to be this son of man, this king to whom an eternal kingdom is given. This is Messiah language as Jesus’ enemies understood quite well. In Mark, for example, Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews.”[4] Pilate then asks the crowd, no doubt sarcastically, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”[5] Pilate asks the chief priests what he wants them to do with “the King of the Jews.”[6] The soldiers mocked him saying, “Hail King of the Jews.”[7] Pilate ordered the inscription over Jesus’ cross to read, “The King of the Jews.”[8] This is Messiah language. Jesus’ enemies clearly understood that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, the true King of the Jews.

Many critics will no doubt respond that all of this Messiah, Son of God talk did not really go back to Jesus but was just part of the “encrusted tradition” added by the later church. But among the critics’ own criteria for determining what is historically reliable is a principle known as “multiple independent attestation.” Multiple independent attestation simply means that we have more reason to trust events or sayings that are attested in more than one independent source. Even the critics view Mark and John as independent sources and both Mark and John unambiguously present Jesus as claiming to be Messiah. This is precisely how Paul viewed Jesus as well.

It should be noted, however, that there were numerous messiah wannabees and Jewish leaders did not seek to execute people just because they claimed to be messiahs. It was Jesus’ much more radical claims that led to his execution. For example, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (recorded in all four Gospels), Jesus was deliberately fulfilling a prophecy from the book of Zechariah which says, “Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey….”[9]

This is certainly a messianic passage but may be more than that. You see, in the context of Zechariah, Israel’s king is none other than God! In Zechariah, God promises, “I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD”[10] [Yahweh, the name for God], and The LORD [Yahweh] will be king over all the earth.[11] Jesus was deliberately presenting himself as the fulfillment of prophecies about God, Israel’s true King, coming to His people.

This is supported by Jesus’ own words and actions in Mark 2:5 where Jesus heals a paralyzed man saying, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” In a first century Jewish context (and context is everything), only God could forgive sins! Some critics try to dance around this claiming that Jesus was not actually claiming to forgive sins directly, but only pronouncing forgiveness like a priest would pronounce God’s forgiveness. But according to Mark, Jesus’ critics knew exactly what he was claiming. They said, “He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”[12] The writer of the Gospel of Mark clearly wants us to understand that Jesus was putting himself in the place of God—and that he did amazing miracles to back up his claim.

A little bit later, Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath Day when, according to God’s law in the Old Testament, no one was supposed to work. When Jesus was challenged about this, he defended his actions from Old Testament Scripture, but then added, that “the Son of Man is lord even over the Sabbath.”[13] In a Jewish context only God was over Sabbath! Jesus was claiming authority that properly only belonged to God. No wonder his enemies were furious and thought he was a blasphemer!

The point of all this is that the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all present Jesus as proclaiming himself to be the Messiah, Savior and Son of God. This is the same view of Jesus presented by the Gospel of John and it is the same view of Jesus presented by Paul. In other words, Paul was not making up some new doctrine or mythology about Jesus. Paul was simply teaching about Jesus what Jesus had already taught about himself.

The Soteriology of Jesus

Soteriology is the study of salvation. Paul taught that Jesus’ death on the cross provided the atoning sacrifice for our sins and that salvation was solely by God’s grace, apart from any human works or merit, through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. [14] As seen below, Jesus taught the same thing.[15] What Paul explained with logical arguments, however, Jesus often taught in stories.

Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and tax collector who went to the temple to pray. Pharisees were highly respected religious leaders while tax collectors were often viewed as despicable traitors who would pad their own pockets while collecting taxes for the occupying Romans. Luke 18 records the Pharisee as praying:

“I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like
that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit
adultery, I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income”.

The tax collector, on the other hand, “beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.”[16] Jesus said it was the tax collector, not the religious leader, who went away right with God. The point seems to be that God accepts those who come to him in humble repentance, acknowledging their sinfulness before God and seeking his mercy, rather than those who self-righteously think their goodness gains them merit before God. This was exactly the message that Paul taught. Paul insisted that if people are saved it is all because of the grace of God and has nothing to do with any human merit or works on our part.[17]

Jesus told another story about a landowner who went out to the marketplace early in the morning to hire workers for a day in his fields. He and the workers agreed on the normal daily wage. Later, at nine o’clock, the landowner went again to the marketplace to hire more workers, promising to pay them the normal daily wage. He went out again at noon, and at three and at five, each time promising to pay the normal daily wage. At the end of the day, they all received their pay. Each received the normal daily wage as agreed, but the workers who were hired first complained. Those who had only worked an hour received the same pay as those who worked all day. That didn’t seem fair. The owner replied that he paid everyone exactly what they had agreed and asked why they should be so angry just because he was kind to those who came later.[18]

Of course today the offended workers would probably file a lawsuit, but we have to remember that this was just a story to illustrate a point. The story is about God and the point seems to be that God rewards people not according to how long or hard they’ve worked, but according to his own grace. Those who turn to God shortly before death receive the same grace of salvation as those who labored for their whole lives. Is this unfair? Of course not since none of us deserved any of God’s grace to begin with. This teaching is precisely in line with what Paul taught about being saved, not by works, but by God’s grace through faith.

Another story of grace is the well known story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. A man’s younger son asked his father for his inheritance even before his father was dead. The father agreed and the son left home and promptly squandered all the money on wild living and prostitutes. He ended up tending pigs for a living (a horrible fate in the opinion of most Jews of that day). He sank into such poverty that even the pigs’ feed looked good to him.

He finally decided to return home and throw himself on his father’s mercy, saying, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.”[19] Before he even got home his father saw him coming and, “filled with love and compassion,” he ran out to greet his son, embracing him and kissing him while the son confessed his sin. The father then ordered preparations for a great feast saying that his son “was lost, but now his is found.”

Meanwhile the man’s oldest son was upset because he had been faithful to the father while the younger son was living in such decadence. The father assures the older son, “you and I are very close, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!”[20]

Regardless of whether this is a story of Israel returning from exile, as some modern scholars argue, or whether it is a story of individuals repenting of sin, in either case it is the story of God’s gracious acceptance of unworthy sinners (whether individually or as a nation) who repent of their sins and return to their Father. Once again, this story illustrates perfectly one of the primary themes in Paul’s letters, i.e. God’s gracious acceptance of repentant sinners, not because the sinners deserve acceptance, but solely because of the Father’s grace.

Jesus’ message, however, is not just about people repenting and turning to the Father, it is about people turning to Jesus in faith. The Gospel of John, of course, makes this very clear. For example, Jesus says, “I assure you, anyone who believes in me already has eternal life.”[21] Later Jesus is speaking of “his sheep” and says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish….”[22]

The fact that Jesus believed that he was the way to eternal life, however, is not just taught in the Gospel of John. According to both Matthew (19:16-30) and Luke (10:25-37), a man came to Jesus asking what he had to do to earn eternal life. Testing him, Jesus recited the commandments for him and the man responded saying that he had kept them all. Jesus replied, “There is still one thing you lack…Sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

What an unusual demand. Jesus apparently didn’t tell everyone to sell all they had. Numerous wealthy women, for example supported Jesus and he apparently hadn’t told them to sell everything. There is no evidence that he ever told the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea to sell everything. Nor did later Christians understand Jesus to have made this a command for everyone. For example, Ananias and Sapphira (in the Book of Acts) were not condemned because they held money back, but because they lied in an apparent attempt to make themselves look good. There is no reason to believe that Paul demanded that the wealthy business owner, Lydia, sell everything either. We could go on, but the point is to ask why Jesus made such an unusual demand of this rich inquisitor?

The man was seeking eternal life, thinking he had kept all the commandments. Jesus was apparently testing him on the very first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When the rich man demonstrated that he valued his riches more than he valued Jesus, the gospel writers want us to understand that this rich man had not even kept the first commandment, much less all of them. Jesus was not teaching that you can be saved by keeping the Ten Commandments, but was demonstrating that this man had not done so. In any event, the man came to Jesus wanting to know how to have eternal life and Jesus answer was, “follow me.” Jesus taught that he was the way to eternal life just as Paul taught that Jesus was the way to eternal life.

In yet another example of repentance, faith and grace,[23] a Pharisee invited Jesus to eat in his home. Jesus, the Pharisee and the other guests were reclining at dinner. For more formal meals people often laid on their sides on the floor in a circle, with their heads propped up on their left hand while they ate with their right. Everyone’s legs were extended outward like a daisy wheel.

A woman of the city “who was a sinner”, probably a prostitute, came in with very expensive ointment. She knelt down and as she began anointing Jesus’ feet she began weeping. She “began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”[24]

The village was probably one of those places where everyone knew everyone, and everyone knew who this woman was. Purity was a big deal in that culture and for a rabbi to be touched by a sinner, especially a woman, was scandalous and the guests started murmuring against Jesus for allowing this to go on. Jesus reminded the Pharisee that when he came into his house, the Pharisee did not even extend to Jesus the common cultural courtesies of their time, but this woman had kissed and anointed his feet! What Jesus said next undoubtedly shocked the guests: “I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much.” Then, speaking directly to the woman he said, “your sins are forgiven.” Stunned, the guests murmured, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go it peace.”[25]

Wait a minute! Back the train up! Who said anything about faith? There was not a single mention of faith in this entire story until the very last sentence. What faith? The story seems to be about sin and repentance—the woman was a sinner who was weeping, apparently over her sin. The story seems to be about devotion—the woman showed a remarkable devotion to Jesus. The story is certainly about love—Jesus says the woman loved much and her actions showed how much she loved Jesus. But who said anything about faith?

The woman’s repentance, love and devotion toward Jesus is precisely what saving faith is all about! There is a cute little children’s song that says, “faith is just believing what God says he will do.” Nonsense! The book of James says “even the demons believe…and tremble.” Of course faith involves believing certain facts about Jesus—after all, the woman did not come to Jesus because she thought he was just another Pharisee. But saving faith is more than just believing certain doctrines. It is about a radical change of heart about who we are (sinners worthy of death) and who Jesus is (our only hope). This is precisely what Paul taught about faith and salvation.

There are, however, a few sayings and stories in the gospels that have led some Bible teachers to think that Jesus actually taught a form of salvation by doing good works. For example, Jesus tells a story of the final Judgment when the “sheep” will be separated from the “goats.” In this story, “sheep” are those who feed the poor, help the sick, visit those in prison, etc. The goats are those who don’t do any of those things.[26] But a closer examination of the story reveals that those who feed the poor and do other good works in the story, were not doing so in order to be saved (they said, Lord, when did we ever see you in need and help?). Paul teaches that while works do not save us, genuine saving faith results in a change of behavior.[27] This is precisely what Jesus taught.

The Ethics of Jesus

So both Jesus and Paul taught that saving faith produces a change in behavior. Both also agreed on the kind of behavior that faith, or more accurately, the Sprit produces. Both Jesus and Paul taught that we should love our neighbors as ourselves.[28] Both taught that we should even bless those who curse us[29] and that we should forgive those who wrong us.[30] Both Jesus and Paul taught the importance of honesty[31] and making peace.[32] Both taught that we should be compassionate,[33] that we should honor father and mother,[34] and care for those in need.[35]

Jesus said that if anyone sues you for your tunic let him have your cloak also.[36] Paul taught the same basic principle to the Corinthians when he told them not to take a fellow Christian to court before non-Christians but rather suffer the loss.[37]

When questioned about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.[38] Paul said to give to those that which belongs to them and specifically mentions taxes.[39]

Contrary to many who think it is judgmental to talk about sin, both Jesus and Paul had a lot to say about sin. Of course they both condemned what we might call the “big” sins outlined in the Ten Commandments’ like murder,[40] adultery,[41] and theft.[42] But for both Jesus and Paul, sin was more than what we might think of as big sins.

Both Jesus and Paul warned not only against murder but against unrighteous anger.[43] Jesus taught that we should bless those who curse us[44] and Paul taught the same.[45] Both Jesus and Paul preached not only against adultery, but against all sexual immorality,[46] even sensuality[47] and lust.[48] They didn’t just preach against theft, but against coveting[49] and greed.[50] In fact Jesus warned against focusing to much on earthly possessions at all[51] and Paul, similarly taught that the love of money was the root of evil.[52] Both Jesus and Paul taught against deceit,[53] slander[54] and divorce.[55] Both condemned arrogant pride and self-righteousness.[56]


All of this, of course, does not exhaust the parallels between Jesus and Paul. For example, virtually all Jesus scholars acknowledge that a big part of Jesus’ message was the kingdom of God.[57] Paul also taught about the kingdom of God.[58] Both Jesus and Paul called people to repentance,[59] both taught the importance of prayer,[60] and both warned against false prophets[61] or false teachers.[62]

Both Jesus[63] and Paul[64] called God “Abba,” an affectionate term for one’s Father. This wouldn’t mean much if all Christians and Jews in the first century called God “Abba,” but as far as we know it seems to have been very unusual to speak of God with such intimacy.
Jesus taught that we should love him more than even our father, mother sister, brother, wife, children, etc.[65] Paul said that people are accursed if they don’t love the Lord.[66]
According to the Gospels, Jesus had a last supper with his disciples, that it was the New Covenant in his blood, and that his followers were to continue to practice it.[67] Paul referred to the same event in First Corinthians and tied it to the New Covenant.[68]

According Matthew 28:19 Jesus commanded his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” Similarly Mark 16:15 records Jesus as saying, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.”[69] Paul’s entire ministry could be summed up as obedience to this command as he went into the world to preach the gospel to everyone, regardless of race, class, religion or national origin. According to all four gospels Jesus taught that he would come back again.[70] Paul also taught that Jesus would come back again.[71] Jesus taught that there would be a day of judgment when people would have to give account to God for every careless word they speak.[72] Paul also taught that there would be a day of judgment when God would judge the secrets of people’s hearts.[73]

The point of this discussion is that while many people like to imagine that Paul was the corrupter of Jesus, the evidence actually shows that Paul was the faithful proclaimer both of Jesus and Jesus’ message. Of course many critics, in their endless cynicism, will just argue that many of the teachings of Jesus recorded in the Gospels come, not from Jesus, but from “creative communities, i.e. early churches as they made up sayings to address problems in their churches.

But Paul suffered intensely for tenaciously preaching his message about Jesus. It is understandable that he would willingly expose himself to such suffering if he genuinely believed his message to be true. It doesn’t make much sense to think that he was suffering so much—and drawing other believers whom he cared about deeply into that suffering as well—if he was just making up new doctrines as we went along. It is beyond the scope of this paper to address this point further but the reader who would like to pursue it further is encouraged to begin by reading Paul Wenham’s excellent book, Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity.

[1] Marcus Borg writes, “But as the New Testament scholar John Knox argued a generation ago, thinking that Jesus thought of himself in such grand terms raises serious questions about the mental health of Jesus.” And “Indeed, we have categories of psychological diagnosis for people who talk like this about themselves” (Borg, Marcus and N.T. Wright. The Meaning of Jesus; Two Visions. San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, 1998, 146, 149. Indeed, if Jesus was not who the Gospel writers say he claimed to be, it does raise questions about his mental health. In fact, perhaps that is why his enemies charged him with being insane or demon possessed! This is why some Evangelicals have argued that Jesus was either a liar, lunatic or Lord. The idea that he was just a good Jewish teacher or mystic is not open to us.
[2] Mark 14:62
[3] Daniel 7:13-14
[4] Mark 15:2
[5] Mark 15:9
[6] Mark 15:12
[7] Mark 15:18
[8] Mark 15:26
[9] Zechariah 9:9
[10] Zechariah 3:11
[11] Zechariah 14:9
[12] Mark 2:7
[13] Mark 2:23-28
[14] Romans 3:21-25; 5:9
[15] Matthew 19:28-29; John 6:51-53
[16] Luke 18:11-13, NLT
[17] Romans 3:27-4:4; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-10.
[18] Matthew 20:1-16
[19] Luke 15:18-19
[20] Luke 15:11-32
[21] John 6:47
[22] John 10:28
[23] Luke 7:36-50
[24] Luke 7:38
[25] Luke 7:49-50
[26] Matthew 25:31-46
[27] Romans 6:1-2; cf. 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:8-10.
[28] Matthew 22:39-40; Mark 10:28-31;Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:9.
[29] Luke 6:27-29;Romans 12:14
[30] Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-22;Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32
[31] Matthew 5:33-37; Colossians 3:9
[32] Matthew 5:9; Romans 14:19
[33] Matthew 5:7; 15:32; Colossians 3:12
[34] Matthew 15:4; Matthew 19:19; Ephesians 6:2
[35] Matthew 25:31-46; Galatians 2:10; Romans 5:26; 1 Timothy 5:8
[36] Matthew 5:40
[37] First Corinthians 6:6-7
[38] Luke 20:19-25
[39] Romans 13:6-7
[40] Mark 7:21; (Romans 1:29; 13:9
[41] Matthew 5:27-30; Mark 7:21; First Thessalonians 4:5; Romans 13:9
[42] Mark 7:21; Ephesians 4:28
[43] Matthew 5:21-26; Galatians 5:20; Ephesians 4:31
[44] Luke 6:28
[45] Romans 12:14
[46] Mark 7:21; Romans 13:13
[47] Mark 7:22; Romans 13:13; Galatians 5:19
[48] Matthew 5:27-30; Mark 7:21; First Thessalonians 4:5; Romans 13:9
[49] Mark 7:22; Romans 1:29; Ephesians 5:3
[50] Luke 11:39; First Corinthians 5:10-11
[51] Matthew 6:19-21; Luke 12:16-21
[52] First Timothy 6:10
[53] Mark 7:22; Romans 1:29
[54] Mark 7:22; Ephesians 4:31; Colossians 3:8
[55] Matthew 5:31; 19:8-9; First Corinthians 7:11-13
[56] Mark 12:38-40; Matthew 23:25-33; First Corinthians 13:4; Second Timothy 3:2
[57] For example, Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 9:60; John 3:3-5.
[58] For example, Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 4:20; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 1:13; First Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:1.
[59] Luke 13:1-5; 19:1-10; Romans 2:4; Second Corinthians 7:10
[60] Luke 18:1ff.; Luke 6:12; Matthew 6:5-13; First Thessalonians 5:17; First Timothy 2:8
[61] Matthew 7:15
[62] Second Timothy 4:3
[63] Mark 14:36
[64] Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15
[65] Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26
[66] 1 Corinthians 16:22
[67] Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20.
[68] First Corinthians 11:23-27.
[69] Although most critics deny that Mark 16:9-20 was part of the original Gospel of Mark since it is missing from some early manuscripts, the church leader, Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3.10.5?), quoted from this passage long before the production of the manuscripts in which this passage was missing.
[70] Mark 13:24-26, 14:62; Matthew 24:30, 36, 44; 25:31; Luke 21:27; John 14:1-4.
[71] First Thessalonians 1:10, 4:13-17; First Corinthians 15:23
[72] Matthew 12:36
[73] Romans 2:16