The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus/Part 3/Section 3
3.—The Question of Genuineness.Edit
The Pauline Christ is a metaphysical principle, and his incarnation only one in idea, an imaginary element of his religious system. The man Jesus is in Paul the idealised suffering servant of God of Isaiah and the just man of Wisdom an intermediate stage of metaphysical evolution, not an historical personality. When we admit this, we remove the chief obstacle that has hitherto prevented theologians from studying seriously the question of the spuriousness of the Pauline Epistles. What they have said on the subject up to the present shows anything but an unprejudiced inquiry into the matter. Historical theology has need of genuine Pauline Epistles, in order to base on them its belief in an historical Jesus, and therefore they must not be spurious. But how are they going to prove that they are genuine? There are no non-Christian witnesses. The silence of Philo and Josephus about an apostle who is supposed to have thrown the Jews into excitement over the whole earth (Acts xxiv, 5), to have been persecuted by them with the direst hatred, and to have been dragged into court more than once, involving the highest Jewish and Roman authorities, has not yet been explained by our opponents. What about Christian witnesses? There are “enough of them,” says J. Weiss. Unfortunately, what the theologians bring forward—such as the letter of Clement to the Corinthians, on which Weiss relies—have long been shown to be unreliable by the Dutch, especially by Loman, Van Manen, and Steck. There is no proof of the existence of Pauline Epistles before Justin, and it remains an open question whether Justin had any knowledge of such Epistles. Papias also is silent about Paul's Epistles, even at a point where he would have been bound to mention them if he had known them. It is also a matter for reflection that as early as the second century there were heretical sects, such as the Severians, who declared that all the Epistles of Paul were spurious.
(a) Emotional Arguments for the Genuineness.—We can, therefore, only seek to prove the genuineness of the Pauline Epistles by internal arguments, by philological considerations or analysis of their style. But how we can in this way establish that the Epistles really were written by the apostle Paul, and belong to the middle of the first century, seeing that we have no independent specimens of Paul's writing, it is difficult to say. When a philologist like Wilamowitz infers the genuineness of the Epistles from their vivid and personal style, and says, categorically, “This style is Paul, and no one else,” we merely have one more proof of the dependence of our whole science on theology. How does the philologist know the character and personality of Paul if not from the Epistles issued under his name? He therefore finds the test of genuineness in the Epistles themselves; and when he discovers that the Epistles naturally meet this test, he thinks that he has established their genuineness. “A standard is used,” says Van Manen, “which has been taken from the Epistle or Epistles whose genuineness is in question, and students proceed as if the picture of the apostle of the Gentiles which they owe to tradition, to descriptions by third persons, or to their own research, was obtained apart from the Epistle or Epistles to which it is applied. They exclaim: Paul to the life! They recognise one feature after another. But what have they really proved? They have merely hoaxed themselves.”
But what about the “powerful personality,” the “uninventible originality,” the “soul” that lives in the Epistles? When our opponents can find no other argument, they have naturally to rely on the originality, the uniqueness, the impossibility of inventing the style of the Epistles. On this point we find von Soden, Jülicher, Weiss, and all the rest in full agreement. “Then the general impression made by the Epistles,” exclaims J. Weiss, ecstatically—we almost see him with his eyes raised to heaven and his hand laid on the text of Paul—“this richness of tones and shades, this extraordinary originality any man who cannot feel it convicts himself of great uncultivation of literary taste and judgment” (p. 100).
But who in the world contests a word of this? What we contest is the deducing of the apostle Paul from these features of the Epistles. No matter how “personal” the style of the Epistles may be, it does not give us the least assurance that the Epistles were written by the man whose name appears at the head of each. Nor does it follow from the “distinctiveness of the style” that they could not have been produced by a school or a group. Is not the style of the Johannine literature even more distinctive? Or must the Homeric poems have been composed by a single Homer because they all have the same style? As a matter of fact, moreover, the Epistles do not accord with each other, nor is there complete harmony within the limits of a single Epistle. As to the originality, van Manen observed: “To be original in any form, in any language or age, is just as possible, provided that the man has the necessary ability, for one who covers himself with the mask of some distinguished person as for one who writes in his own name and person, for the pseudonymous writer just as well as for the candid writer” (p. 188). On the principles of our opponents, Nietzsche's work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, must have been written by the ancient Persian religious founder, because it is so personal, so original, so rich in tones and shades. On the same principles, the fourth gospel was evidently written by the apostle John; and, as a matter of fact, up to the middle of the last century theologians affected to perceive in it the very heart-beat of the disciple whom Jesus loved. “Which,” as van Manen says, “ought to make us more cautious, and raise the question whether we are not at times too ready to identify an old and long-standing opinion with the fresh and unadulterated impression which the work, the Epistle, would make on an impartial reader. It is at least certain that as yet no one has succeeded in denning the ‘personal’ element in such a way that any moderate group would agree in the description. A satisfactory portrait of Paul is one of the things that are yet no more than pious wishes” (p. 189).
Jülicher says, in reference to the “sharp variation of tone, the moods, the allusions to things known only to the people to whom the Epistle is addressed, and the outbreaks of almost sinister anger in the Pauline Epistles” (p. 25), that no man could put himself in the frame of mind of another in this way. In that he merely shows that a modern professor of theology sitting at his desk is incapable of doing it, not that an impassioned Gnostic of the second century, in the thick of the fight against legal Judaism and ardently seeking to vindicate his conception of the gospel, could not have “invented” these things. We need not, therefore, regard him as a “forger” who “works with incredible fineness and creates the most extraordinary monuments of a great enthusiasm” (p. 26). He need only put into words his own feelings and thoughts, and, as was not uncommon at the time, place on the work the name of the apostle Paul, with whom he feels a spiritual affinity, or whom he has chosen for some other reason; and what seems to Jülicher impossible is done.
(b) Arguments for Genuineness from the Times.—The defenders of the genuineness of the Pauline Epistles would be in an evil plight if they had no other arguments than the aesthetic considerations we have just examined. They have others, however. According to von Soden, no one has ever given an intelligible theory of the origin of these Epistles in the second century. “They deal with far too many things, and with the most lively interest, which no one in Christendom regarded seriously in the second century, as we learn from other and reliable documents” (p. 29). Jülicher also says: “They fit no other period but the years between 50 and 64.” Others, however, especially the Dutch experts, are of the contrary opinion. They have, amongst other things, pointed to the rich inner life of the communities to which the apostle directs his Epistles, and to the complex organisation and ecclesiastical institutions, which are hardly consistent with the view that these were newly founded and quite young communities; they rather indicate that they had been in existence for a long time. Van Manen in particular has described the condition of the Roman community as one that we cannot conceive in the year 59, in which the Epistle to the Romans is supposed to have been addressed to it (p. 155); and Steck has shown the same in regard to the Corinthian community (p. 265). Such institutions as the vicarious baptism for the dead (1 Cor. xv, 29) and the ascetic law of marriage (1 Cor. vii) rather point to the second century, with its Gnostic influence, than to the middle of the first; unless we admit that the Jesus-cult is much older than our theologians are disposed to think, and Gnosticism is the root of the whole of Christianity. The divisions and parties of the Corinthian community, also, which the apostle is eager to conciliate, and the nature of which no one has yet succeeded in explaining, give the impression that they “are merely described schematically under names which were familiar from apostolic times, and the general aim of the warning against ecclesiastical splits was such as the later period everywhere made necessary.” It has been said that the gift of tongues which is mentioned in 1 Cor. xii-xiv had “quite disappeared” in the second century, and this is advanced as a proof that the Pauline Epistles must have been written in the first century. But the “ecstatic or Methodistic” phenomenon of tongues is so general, and recurs so constantly in periods of religious excitement, being even found among certain religious sects and institutions of our own time, that the silence in regard to it of the rest of the literature of the second century gives us no right to conclude that the Pauline Epistles are genuine. We know the gift of tongues from the Epistles, which are assumed to belong to the first century. But how can anyone say that these Epistles must belong to the first century because there is question in them of the gift of tongues? The question of circumcision, also, was by no means unimportant in the second century, as Clemen says; so much is clear from the Dialogue of Justin with the Jew Trypho (cap. 47). The question is there raised whether the Judaeo-Christians who cling to the law can be saved, and the reply is that there is no reason why they should not be, provided they do not press the law on the Gentile Christians under the pretext that they otherwise could not be saved, and do not refuse to live with the Gentile Christians. That indicates that about the middle of the second century the two parties in Christendom still faced each other much as we find them doing in the Epistle to the Galatians.
As is well known, the attitude of the Christian towards the law and his relation to Judaism is a central preoccupation of the Pauline system. Now, during the whole of the first century, at least until the destruction of Jerusalem, there was no opposition between Jews and Christians in regard to the law. They lived in friendliness with each other, visited each other, intermarried, and claimed each other's help—in sickness, for instance. So, amongst many others, Chwolson tells us—and he has carefully investigated the matter—in his work on The Last Passover. In the year 62, according to the account of Josephus, the high priest Hannas had James executed, and this displeased the Pharisees. According to Acts (xv, 5), some of the Pharisees joined the sect. Indeed, about the year 58, the scribes among the Pharisees stood up for Paul, and acknowledged that they found no wrong in him (Acts xxiii, 9). Acts, in fact, knows nothing of a fundamental difference between Paul and the rest of the apostles in regard to their attitude towards Judaism, and even the account of his travels—the part of Acts which has the strongest claim to be regarded as genuine—is silent as to any difference of mind between Paul and the first disciples of Jesus, and does not betray by a single syllable that Paul has promulgated a gospel far in advance of that of the original apostles and surpassing theirs both in the richness of its contents and the depth of its thoughts. Compare with this the vigour with which the Pauline Epistles assail the Mosaic law, the profound opposition between the ideas of Paul in the Epistles and those of the Jews, especially of the Pharisees, his rejection and fresh interpretation of the older Jewish idea of the Messiah, his glorification of the crucified and risen Jesus at the cost of all that was dear to the religious feeling of the Jews; and then reflect whether such a system was more likely to develop in the first century, a few years after the death of Jesus, or in the second century—whether it does not fit any period rather than the years between 50 and 64!
As a matter of fact, it was, as the Jews affirm, and as Lublinski and others have shown, the destruction of Jerusalem that brought about the breach between Jews and Christians. It was only when, after the fall of the holy city, the Jewish priestly organisation and religious life were put out of joint, and the Jews, in order to maintain the purity and strength of their vanquished faith, stood aloof, and sought in an increased service of the law some compensation for the loss of the temple, that the Christians, with their more liberal idea of worship, their inner morality fostered by the prophets, and their stronger sense of penitence on account of their expectation of a speedy end of the world, began to separate from the other Jews, from whom they had as yet not been essentially distinct, and realise that they were a special religious community in opposition to Judaism. This separation increased to deadly enmity and irreconcilable hatred when, about the end of the first century, the section of the Christians opposed to the law got the upper hand, when the Christians went on to deny the validity of the law and its indispensability for religious salvation; when, in the last decisive struggles of the Jews against the Romans, the Christians took the side of the latter, and, abandoning their national hopes of the restoration of Jerusalem and the political recovery of Israel, endeavoured to prevent the rebuilding of the temple, and thus openly separated from their compatriots. The Jews now refused to have any intercourse with the Christians; they cursed and burned their Scriptures, and expelled them from the communities. The Christians avenged this conduct by branding the Jews as obdurate. They reproached them with cutting themselves off from the promise, and contrasted themselves as the chosen of heaven with their former compatriots as outcasts of God and damned. This is the very idea that pervades the Pauline Epistles. Such ideas as those set forth in Romans ix to xi, representing that the Jews, in spite of the promises made to their fathers, will have no part in the blessings of Christianity, had no foundation whatever in the time about the year 59. The question why the Jews were excluded from salvation could not arise and be answered until they were actually outside Christianity. Yet at the time when the Epistle to the Romans is usually supposed to have been written the mission to the Gentiles had only just fully developed, and at least those of the Jews who lived in the dispersion had as yet had no opportunity of learning the gospel. How, then, could Israel be at that time described as “broken off from the trunk” (Romans xi, 17-21)? How could anyone talk of a “fall” of the Jews, which is to be visited by “the sternness of God”? This, as van Manen observes, presupposes the fall of Jerusalem, “the first important fact after the death of Jesus in which the Christians might see a punishment” (p. 159).
The Christian tendency that most strenuously opposed Judaism was Gnosticism. Its roots go back, as Friedländer and others have shown, into the period of the origin of Christianity. But it is not until the second century that we encounter it as a fully-developed religious-philosophical theory or a theosophy. Now Paulinism has the closest affinity to Gnosticism, as Holsten, Pfleiderer, Weizsäcker, and others have shown. In both the idea of faith changes into the idea of knowledge; this knowledge is based on divine revelation: the salvation of the soul depends on the recognition of certain facts of revelation. In both we find a thoroughly dualistic system, in which God and the world, law and grace, death and life, spirit and flesh, etc., are set in the sharpest contrast, and the tendency to mysticism and asceticism goes hand in hand with the striving after a speculative interpretation of the facts of religious experience. Besides their idea of God, and their Christology and doctrine of redemption, they have in common a large number of ideas, such as gnosis, grace, pleroma, ectroma, life, light, etc. They agree, also, not only in their easy disdain of history, but also in their hostility to Judaism and their depreciation—indeed, rejection—of the law. In one case the connection between Gnosticism and Paul is so evident that it may be cited as a proof that Paul knew nothing of an historical Jesus; it is the passage in 1 Cor. ii, 6, where the apostle speaks of the “princes of this world,” who knew not what they did when they “crucified the Lord of glory.” It was long ago recognised by van Manen and others that by these “princes” we must understand, not the Jewish or Roman authorities, nor any terrestrial powers whatever, but the “enemies of this world,” the demons higher powers, which do indeed rule the earth for a time, but will “pass away” before the coming triumph of the saviour-God. That is precisely the Gnostic idea of the death of the Redeemer, and it is here put forward by Paul; from that we may infer that he did not conceive the life of Jesus as an historical event, but a general metaphysical drama, in which heaven and earth struggle for the mastery.
It is well known that prominent Gnostics like Basilides, Valentine, and especially Marcion, appeal confidently to Paul. Marcion's liking for Paul won him the name of “apostle of the heretics.” All this may be explained in the sense that the Gnosticism of the second century had a source in Paul, and appropriated his ideas in the exposition of their own doctrines. But it is just as possible that both Paulinism and Gnosticism belong to the same age, and are only different branches from the same root. This seems to me the more probable when we reflect how well the ground must have been prepared for the apostle's letters if they were to be understood in the communities. Such difficult dogmatic disquisitions as those in the Epistle to the Romans imply a long period of evolution, during which the apostle's ideas must have been much discussed in the communities. They suggest a familiarity with Paulinism which is hardly credible, especially in distant Rome, at the time when the Epistle is usually supposed to have been written. “Paulinism,” says van Manen, “seems to be a generally familiar and much-discussed phenomenon. It has its supporters and its opponents, its catchwords and stereotyped phrases, its own language, which needs no explanation because the readers are assumed to understand it” (p. 141). Without any explanation the apostle uses a number of expressions which would have been understood at once in Gnostic circles of the second century, but could not possibly have been understood in the middle of the first century, a few decades after the death of Jesus, in letters to newly-founded communities.
But it is particularly remarkable that Paul himself should have attained so detailed and systematic a knowledge of Gnostic ideas so soon after the tragedy of Golgotha. One has only to recall the fundamental points of the Pauline system to see that van Manen is right in saying that “a long time must have elapsed since the appearance of the first disciples before a new tendency of this character could arise. We have here more than a simple triumph over the repugnance to the cross, by which pious Jews were enabled to accept the ideal of a suffering Messiah, to hail Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah promised to their fathers, and to join the new brotherhood. We have here a complete breach with Judaism, a new and substantially complete system, needing only to be elaborated in detail and accommodated to the needs of a later generation, a thorough reform of the prevailing system, assuredly the fruit of a deep experience of life and a long period of earnest thought.” This reform is supposed, according to the prevailing view, to have taken place a few years after the death of Jesus, to have been brought about by a man who, himself a Jew and pupil of the Jewish scholars, is supposed to have lived wholly in Judaism until that time, and to have arisen in circumstances which would hinder rather than further it! That seems to be quite unintelligible from the psychological point of view. “It is simply inconceivable,” says van Manen, “that Paul the Jew, who persecuted the community on conviction, brought about so extraordinary a revolution in the faith of this community almost immediately after he accepted it. It is not conceivable that this conscientious zealot for Israel's God, Israel's laws, morals, and customs, should perceive so suddenly, when he has overcome his repugnance to the cross, that this God was not the most-high, but must make way for the father, whom neither Jews nor Gentiles had known before the coming of Christ [?]; that this Christ was not the one promised to their fathers, the Messiah, but a supernatural being, God's own son, who merely assumed for a time the appearance of a man like ourselves; and that the law, with all its prescriptions and promises, could and should be thrust aside as without value or significance. We must not forget that all this is new in the Pauline gospel, and has no relation to the ‘faith’ of the first disciples, who were still full-blooded Jews in their Messianic expectations. Let us try to realise what it means for a serious-minded and pious Jew, like the convert Paul, to abandon the God of his fathers and bow down to one who had hitherto been unknown. Consider the dependence of the pious Jew on the law and the morals and customs it prescribes. Imagine what is required to make a man accept as a supernatural being, as God's own son, one whom he had shortly before regarded as an impostor, and who had died on the cross as a criminal a few years before, even if he now acknowledges his innocence and his high character as an anointed of God. A belief in the resurrection and transfigured life of Jesus could not accomplish this, any more than it led the first disciples to deify the master, because it was believed that Enoch, Moses, and Elias also had been taken up into heaven; they had not on that account ceased to have a human character in the minds of believers. In this we can clearly discern the influence of ideas of a non-Jewish origin, the ideas of oriental gnosis, which in turn had come into contact with Greek philosophy and pagan notions of divinity. We have here no case of ordinary ‘deification,’ for which a pious imagination might supply the material. Had not Christianity come into contact with gnosis through ‘Paul’ had it remained permanently under the lead of the Jewish mind, the monotheism of Israel would have warned it against deifying its ‘founder,’ just as in the days of their fathers Moses, the founder of the religion of Israel, was saved from deification.”
What efforts the historical critics have made to render more or less intelligible the sudden revulsion of Paul after the Damascus vision! But neither the resources of the Hegelian dialectic, as used by Baur and, in a certain sense, Pfleiderer, nor those of modern psychology, employed by Jülicher, Weiss, and others, have enabled the prevailing theory to give even plausibility to their idea of the origin of the Pauline Christology, and to fill with psychological and historical considerations the gap, the reality of which J. Weiss does not deny, between the doctrine of Paul and that of the so-called disciples of Jesus. That the light which Paul saw, and the words he heard, led him to condemn the whole of his previous thought, life, faith, and hope, and converted him into a “new creature,” is hardly credible. Such an event would be so “unique” in the history of the world that any man who admits it has no need to deny other “miracles” in the New Testament, or regard any of its statements as incredible. It has recently been suggested that the historical Jesus himself may have been concerned in the conversion; we hear of the “strong impression” that Jesus must have made on Paul, and Kölbing and J. Weiss speak of “a spiritual action of the person of Jesus”—some even suggest a meeting somewhere of the two. Such a theory finds no support whatever in Acts or the Pauline Epistles; indeed, as I said before, it would make the apostle untruthful, as he says repeatedly and emphatically that he received his gospel only by an inner revelation (Gal. i). Theologians also see in the “Damascus miracle” another proof of the “all-surpassing greatness and significance” of their Jesus, and try to realise the “ineffaceable impression” which Paul must have had of Jesus, in order in this way to find some justification of their cult of Jesus. The event, however, is not made more plausible in this way, because the difficulty precisely is how it was possible for a monotheistic mind, a zealous Jew, to apotheosise a man who had died not long before, not a personage of remote antiquity such as Moses, Elias, or Enoch. And the difficulty is not removed by supposing that the apostle had somewhere or other met the crucified Jesus. Paul had never known Jesus personally. The Christianity that was linked with Paul in its later development cannot be traced to a personal action of Jesus on the apostle. That is unequivocally shown by the documents, the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles. Any man who denies this is reading into the documents something that they do not contain; in fact, they say just the contrary. Whoever reads this into them is simply introducing into the documents a conception of Jesus which he has obtained elsewhere, interpreting them in a sense that they do not justify, and cannot complain if his opponents regard his claim to be “methodical” and “unprejudiced” as a ridiculous hallucination and presumption.
(c) The Spuriousness of the Pauline Epistles.—If Paul refers in his Epistles to an historical Jesus, these Epistles, bearing his name, cannot possibly have been written by the apostle who was changed from Saul to Paul by the Damascus vision. For it is inconceivable that an historical individual should, so soon after his death, be elevated by the apostle to the dignity of a second God, a co-worker in the creation and redemption of the world. If the Epistles really were written by Paul, the Jesus Christ who is a central figure in them cannot be an historical personality. The way in which the supposed Jew Paul speaks of him is contrary to all psychological and historical experience. Either the Pauline Epistles are genuine, and in that case Jesus is not an historical personality; or he is an historical personality, and in that case the Pauline Epistles are not genuine, but written at a much later period. This later period would have no difficulty in raising to the sphere of deity a man of former times who was known to it only by a vague tradition. And if the Epistles do not come from Paul, they belong to a totally different circle from that of the converted Jew, and are rather, as Steck says, the work of a whole school of anti-legal Gnostics of the first quarter of the second century, who aimed at detaching Christianity from its maternal Jewish stock, and making it an independent religion; in that case their references to Jesus have no historical value, and cannot be quoted as evidence of the historical Jesus.
Let it not be objected that the Pauline Epistles bear unmistakably the stamp of Jewish authorship, and in their Rabbinical cast of thought and argument point to the Paul of Acts. For, apart from the fact that this would afford no proof that Paul was the author, since the Gnostic author of the second century might be a Pharisaic Rabbi converted into an apostle by some “tremendous experience,” the Jewish character of the author of the Epistles and his relation to Rabbinism are by no means so certain as believers in Paul suggest; indeed, here again it seems as if most of them know nothing of the Rabbinical cast of mind and method of argument except from the Epistles themselves. Jewish scholars, who can appreciate the point, by no means recognise the contents of the Epistles as of their own spirit; they emphatically deny that their author could have been a pupil of the Rabbis. There is serious ground for reflection in the fact that, as Kautzsch pointed out in 1869 and Steck has confirmed (p. 212), the writer of the Epistles does not quote the Hebrew text of the Scriptures, but the Greek Septuagint translation, with all its faults, and that on this account he makes statements which a glance at the Hebrew text would have shown him at once to be incorrect. That would be unintelligible on the part of a rigorous Jew and pupil of the Rabbis, because the translation of the Old Testament into a foreign language was regarded by the strict Jews of Palestine as a sin against the law, a profanation of the holy word.
Did Paul know Hebrew at all? The question seems to be absurd if the author of the Epistles really was the pupil of Gamaliel and had been a zealot for the Mosaic law. Yet the Epistles give no trace of an acquaintance with Hebrew. In spite of the assurance of the writer that he was born a Jew, he seems to be Greek in everything. He thinks as a Greek, speaks as a Greek, uses Greek books; and whatever there is in him that can only be explained—we are told—by Judaism is much closer, as van Manen says, to the Alexandrian or Hellenistic Judaism of Philo and Wisdom, which he often uses, than to the ideas of the Old Testament, and need by no means have been taken from the Hebrew Bible.
Further, this supposed pupil of the Rabbis interprets the law in a way that, as we are told by Jewish experts, is anything but Rabbinical. While the Rabbis leave the literal meaning of the scripture untouched even in their allegorical interpretations, the apostle is extremely arbitrary in this respect; he turns the meaning of the words inside out, and changes a plain meaning into the very opposite, as Eschelbacher shows (among others) in the case of Gal iv, 21 (p. 546). The author of the Pauline Epistles has neither an accurate knowledge of the text of the scriptures nor an interest in, or understanding of, its contents. He twists the plain course of the text to his purposes at the moment, and grossly offends against both the letter and the spirit of the passages in a way that no man who had passed through the schools would ever venture to do. “The interpretations of scripture in the Pauline Epistles,” says Eschelbacher, “cannot, either in substance or form, be brought into any relation whatever either with those of the Palestinian experts, or with those of the Judaeo-Hellenistic religious philosophers, or with those of their time or of the following period. There is nothing analogous to them in the whole of Jewish literature. This is found only in the Christian writings of the second century, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of Barnabas, the writings of Justin, etc.” (p. 550). “There is no question whatever of a thorough knowledge of scripture, or scholarly acquaintance with what was taught in the Jewish schools in Palestine or elsewhere, in the Pauline Epistles” (p. 668).
When we survey all that has been urged, especially by the Dutch, against the genuineness of the Pauline Epistles, particularly the contradiction between Acts and the Epistles, we cannot resist the impression that the obstinacy with which historical theology clings to the Pauline authorship, and declares every attack on it to be “beneath discussion,” is really due rather to a very intelligible prejudice than to the merits of the case. In the eyes of these theologians Paul is the weightiest witness to the historicity of Jesus on whom their “science” can rely, hence nothing can be “scientific” which tends to discredit the testimony of their witness. We who are convinced that, even if the Pauline Epistles were genuine, they would not prove the existence of an historical Jesus, and that they probably refer to another Jesus altogether, are only moderately interested in the question who was the author of the Epistles. It is immaterial to us whether there was one author, or whether, as the Dutch have tried to show, several co-operated in producing them; whether they are original, or are merely elaborations of older letters; whether in substance they go back to an apostle Paul who preached the gospel to the Gentiles about the middle of the first century, founded communities, and was to some extent opposed to the “original apostles” at Jerusalem, or whether they are altogether products of the first quarter of the second century, and the figure of the apostle is a piece of fiction.
It is possible that, as Steck and van Manen believe, there really was a Paul, a man who, though he may have taken up a somewhat exceptional position in regard to the other apostles, can scarcely have been so decisively opposed to them as the Epistles represent, and whose features we have described, somewhat didactically, in Acts. This Paul, however, was in that case “a Jew by birth, who had to a slight extent turned his back on Judaism. He preaches circumcision—that is to say, fidelity to the rites and customs of Judaism, fidelity to the law in spite of his acceptance of the faith and expectations of the disciples of Jesus.” There was thus no direct connection between him and the author of the letters which bear his name; they show a quite different spirit. But there was an indirect connection in the sense that Paulinism, as an attempt to detach Christianity from Judaism, making it a world-religion, and at the same time spiritualising and deepening its contents, may have had a grateful recollection of the man who first gave wide publicity to the ideas of the new religion. But it is equally possible that the name of Paul is only a general title for a number of letter-writers, who invented the character in order to give an air of authority to a religious system that went beyond the original Christianity. It would not be possible to ascribe so peculiar and novel a system as Paulinism to an immediate disciple of “the Lord,” to whose supposed historical personality the other followers of the new religion appealed. But some sort of connection with the “historical” Jesus was needed in order to displace the older Christianity with its Judaic leanings, and to base the hostility to Judaism on a “revelation” that came from Jesus himself. Thus arose the character of the once pious Jew Paul, who rages against the Christians, and is then converted by a vision, and, as a zealot against the law, founds a purely spiritual Christianity, making it easier by his own example for the Jews to abandon the law.
However this may be, the Pauline Epistles, we need not repeat, give no support whatever to the belief in an historical Jesus. This also, as we said, puts an end to religious interest in the historicity of Paul, and profane historians and philologists may be left in peace to reconstruct, out of Acts and the so-called Epistles of Paul, a picture of the real sequence of events which accompanied the rise of Christianity.
- Quaestiones Paulinae.
- Galaterbrief, p. 287.
- Eusebius, Eccl. Hist., III, 40.
- Kultur der Gegenw., I, p. 159.
- Römerbrief, p. 185.
- Compare Steck, p. 363.
- Besides van Manen (p. 14), William B. Smith has, in an article in the Journal of Biblical Literature (1910), which even Harnack appreciates, shown that Romans i, 7 originally read, “To all that are beloved of God,” instead of “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints,” so that the Epistle of Paul was not addressed to the Romans, but was a theological message to all Christians in general: a view that Zahn has adopted in the third edition of his Einleitung in den Römerbrief. (See Harnack in Preuschen's Zeitschr., 1902, p. 83.)
- Steck, work quoted, p. 72.
- Otto Schmiedel, Die Hauptprobleme der Leben-Jesu-Forschung, p. 14.
- Paulus, sein Leben und sein Wirken, I, p. 11, 1904.
- Steck, p. 380.
- Der vorchristliche Gnosticismus, 1898.
- Römerbrief, p. 124.
- Work quoted, p. 136. As to the impossibility of the historical Jesus being deified by Paul and the great difference between this sort of deification and the deification of other outstanding personalities, such as the Emperor, etc., see Lublinski, Das werdende Dogma, p. 49.
- Paulus und Jesus, pp. 3 and 72.
- Die geistige Einwirkung der Person Jesu auf Paulus, 1906.
- For further details see Eschelbacher, “Zur Geschichte und Charakteristik der Paulinischen Briefe,” in the Monatsschrift für Geschichte u. Wissenschaft d. Judentums, 51 Jahrg., Neue Folge, 15 Jahrg., 1907, pp. 411 and 542.
- See Schlager, Der Paulus der Apg. und der Paulus der Briefe, in the periodical Die Tat, 2 Jahrg., 1910, Heft 8.
- Van Manen, Römerbrief, p. 206.