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The Earliest Gospel

Updated on September 15, 2015

Dennis O'Donnell

I suppose we've all heard objections to the reliability or "believability" of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) due - in part - to the apparent "late dates" at which they were composed.

You'll sometimes hear statements like "the Gospels were written so long after the fact that most of what they say is probably myth", and some people (although, very few) will go so far as to claim that there was never even a real person called Jesus of Nazareth, and that the Gospels are entirely mythological, having no basis at all in actual fact.

You might also hear (or read) opinions that on one hand hold to the idea that there may have indeed been a person named Jesus, who was indeed from Nazareth, and that was indeed a notable Rabbi who eventually ended up being crucified - but on the other hand will assert that the Resurrection never happened, or, that the Resurrection was simply a "spiritual-only" kind of thing - one having no "physical" component to it at all; no empty tomb, no Jesus allowing Thomas to touch his wounds, no Jesus eating fish on the beach, and so on. (The "spiritual-only" resurrection is seen as something symbolic or metaphoric, such that one might say "I believe Jesus rose from the dead in a spiritual sense, and is now alive in our hearts", in much the same fashion that one might say "Martin Luther King lives on in our hearts").

Were the Gospels written so long after the crucifixion that the story they tell is unreliable, or nothing more than myth? Were they like the stories of Robin Hood or King Arthur - stories that might have had a kernel of historic fact, but had been "romanticized" by the time they were written down, such that the written versions bore little resemblance to the actual historic kernel?

I suppose that, in order to answer any of these questions, we'd have to first know definitively when The Gospels were written, but for the time being, that's problematic: nobody really knows with any certainty when any of The Gospels were first produced.

Here are the generally-accepted dates of composition of the Gospels (and note - I'm giving the broadest range that scholars generally ascribe):

Matthew 70 AD - 100 AD
Mark 65 AD - 73 AD
Luke 80 AD - 100 AD
John 90 AD - 110 AD

Most scholars believe that Jesus was crucified sometime between 30 AD and 33 AD, and scant few scholars of any credibility dispute this. So, according to the dates show above, it would indeed appear that the Gospels were, in fact, written many decades after the crucifixion.

Some scholars believe that all the Gospels, except John, were written before 70 AD, because none make any mention of the destruction of the Temple (which Jesus predicted), or the burning of Rome or the death of Nero, all of which are of profound historic significance. Even the Book of Acts, which was a "follow-up" to the Gospel of Luke, fails to mention the destruction of Jerusalem (70 AD), nor the death of Nero (68 AD), nor the burning of Rome (64 AD), and likewise fails to mention the deaths of James (62 AD), Paul (64 AD), and Peter (65 AD). One might think that a document which had the sole purpose of recording important historic events of the early church and of it's most notable apostles would have made mention of the deaths of the two apostles that it devotes most of it's detail to, if indeed it had been written after their deaths.

However - it is not my intention in this writing to produce a grand expository on the proper dating of the Gospels. I certainly do not have any more information available to me than has been available to scholars over the centuries, and using that (currently available) information doesn't get us any closer to answering the questions of reliablity or of the "myth factor".

So, I want to take a different approach.

You see, the "gospel" did NOT originate with "The Gospels". The gospel - the "good news" - the story of Jesus and his message - started long before any of the Gospels were written down. The story of Jesus was told many, many times, over many decades, before it ever got committed to the written form which we call "The Gospels".

What is the evidence of this, and how do we know that the story that was being told was materially the same as what was later written in The Gospels?

I'd like to see what we can find out about the earliest "telling of the gospel" by looking at the earliest Christian writings we have, which are the letters of Paul.

Now, not all of the letters usually ascribed to Paul are considered "genuine". The actual authorship of some is somewhat doubted, and of others, the authorship is very much disputed.

Seven of Paul's letters, however, are generally classified as "undisputed", expressing strong contemporary scholarly consensus that they are indeed the work of the Apostle: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon

Below are the approximate dates of composition of these letters:

First Thessalonians (ca. 51 AD)
Philippians (ca. 52–54 AD)
Philemon (ca. 52–54 AD)
First Corinthians (ca. 53–54 AD)
Galatians (ca. 55 AD - some scholars insist 47ad)
Second Corinthians (ca. 55–56 AD)
Romans (ca. 55–58 AD)

I'm going to use information found only in these above-mentioned texts, so that no objections, such as "scholars aren't even sure if Paul wrote Ephesians" can be thrown into the mix. Thus, from this point, any mention I make to Paul's "letters" is going to be referring to those in this list.

Now - let's begin the "exploration" to see if we can tell what "Jesus story" was being told before The Gospels were written.

As I mentioned earlier, Jesus was crucified between 30 and 33 AD.

So, for the sake of simple mathematics, let's just use the year 31 AD as the year of crucifixion.

The stoning of Stephan, at which Saul of Tarsus (later known as Paul) was present, would have been about 32 AD.

Saul's (Paul's) encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus would have been 33-34 AD.

Paul met with the apostles in Jerusalem in about 36 AD, and his first "missionary journey" began about eight to ten years later, about 44-46 AD.

(Note: the above information regarding the years of Jesus' crucifixion, and the subsequent activities involving Saul of Tarsus is very widely considered by historians and scholars as "historic fact".)

First Thessalonians - the earliest of Paul's letters that are widely undisputed to be genuine - was written 20 years after crucifixion, and about 17 or 18 years after Paul's conversion. The other letters were written between 21 and 24 years after the crucifixion (or, 18 to 21 years after Paul's "Damascus Road" encounter with Jesus). Of course, if Galatians was written at the earlier date that some scholars hold to (47 AD), it was written a mere 16 years after the crucifixion. For my purposes here, I'm going with the late date for Galatians.

During those 17 or 18 years, between Paul's "conversion" and the writing of his first (known) letter, was there a gospel message being told? Did that message show any real consistency with the later-written Gospels themselves? Do Paul's letters contain anything in them that is consistent with the Gospels, or that show that Paul had knowledge of what Jesus taught?

Some biblical critics are quick to point out that Paul never writes of the virgin birth in Bethlehem, the escape of Jesus' family to Egypt, Jesus teaching in the Temple at about the age of twelve, his baptism by John, and practically never quotes Jesus at all, or writes of miracles such as feeding the five thousand or turning water into wine.

I might as well concede that it is entirely true that none of Paul's letters simply "spell out" the whole "Jesus story" as a biographical writing. But, one should hardly expect to find such information in Paul's letters: His letters are not evangelizing, nor is he trying to recount the biography of Jesus; that evangelization has already been done, those churches and individuals that he is writing to have already heard the story of Jesus. That, presumably, is why they are Christians. In his letters, he's trying (generally) to provide instruction, correction, exhortation and encouragement to those that are already believers in Christ.

As he states in Romans 15:20 - "And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation". Paul made no effort to preach the gospel where it had already been preached, and likewise, he makes no effort in his writings to re-tell the story of Jesus to people who (clearly) had already heard it.

In Paul's writings, he uses the "Jesus story" - not the facts of Jesus' life but the meaning of his life - as the basis for instruction, exhortation, correction, and encouragement. Before the resurrection, the meaning of Jesus saying "destroy this temple and I will raise it again in three days" - to those that heard Him say it - may well have been something quite different than it came to be after the resurrection. To those hearers - before the resurrection - it may have been easy to conclude that Jesus was talking about the Temple of Jerusalem; after the resurrection, it become apparent that He was talking about His own body (and His own death and resurrection).

In his letter to the Romans, Paul is writing to a community - one that he has never met - in order to instruct, correct, and so on. If he uses elements from the "Jesus story", and expects them to grasp his point, he must be able to assume that the Christians of the church at Rome also were aware both of the story and its essential character.

The same holds true for Paul's other letters (except for the fact that, unlike the Roman community, Paul knew the other recipients): Anything he says regarding the life of Jesus, his attitudes, his family, his ministry - any and all biographic references - as well as the meaning of Jesus' life and ministry, can only make sense to people who were already acquainted with the "Jesus story", and who had at least a basic understanding of the meaning and message of Jesus' life. As he wrote in First Thessalonians, "you also became imitators of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess 1:6): the congregation could not have become imitators of Paul and his ministry companions without having known what they were like, nor could they have become imitators of the Lord without already having known what Jesus was like.

In short, then, Paul's letters are not focused on the "life and times of Jesus". Rather, with that story having already been told (at least, to the audiences to whom he was writing), and Christs work having been accomplished in his death and resurrection, Paul is focused on "what all this means in our lives now".

So, I've gone through each of Paul's "authentic" letters to see what they have to say, and to see if they reflect anything of the biographical story of Jesus, the sayings of Jesus, and the ministry and miracles of Jesus which are told later in the gospels, despite the fact that recounting this information was not Paul's purpose in writing.

Below is a summary of information that can be found both in Paul's letters and in the Gospels.

First, some Important Notes:

1 I do not include ALL supporting references for each given "subtopic" (shown in bold) in the summary below, either from Paul's letters or from the Gospels, because doing so would tend to be redundant and very lenghty. (For example, there are dozens of references in both Paul's letters and the Gospels to Jesus' being "the Son of God". There is no point in referencing all such instances). For each subtopic, I use only one statement from Paul, (in italics) followed by one or more references from the Gospels (which are sometimes quotes of Jesus) to show that Paul's given statement is consistent with the Gospels.

2. I am trying very hard to limit my subtopic list to include statements of facts about Jesus. I am not at all trying to show some type of "theological consistency" between the teachings of Paul and those of Jesus. I am simply trying to provide instances in Paul's writings that demonstrate that Paul knew the story of the "historic Jesus".

3. We already know that there were churches that were established by the time of Paul's writings. For example, First Thessalonians, Paul's earliest letter, makes mention of churches at Judea, Macedonia and in Achaia, which would, of course, be in addition to the church at Thessalonica, to whom Paul was writing. From this, then, we know that there was indeed "a story of Jesus" being told between the time of Jesus' crucifixion and the writing of Paul's letters, since these were all churches that evidently existed before the writing of Paul's earliest known letter.

Now, on to our exploration:

According both to Paul and the Gospels (including quotes from Jesus) -

Jesus existed before Creation

Philippians 1:5-7 .....Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God..... emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

  • John 1:1, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Jesus was born of a woman, and his father was God.

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman...

  • Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit...
  • Luke 1:30-32 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...
  • Luke 1:34-35 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.

[NOTE: one might say there is nothing at all remarkable that Jesus was "born of a woman"; after all, everyone is. But, Paul uses the phrase in conjunction with "God sent forth His son", to establish clearly that Jesus did not just suddenly appear from nowhere, nor were his birth and biological makeup different than humans: he was not born of God and a goddess, as the Gentiles might expect. And, furthermore, noting that Jesus was born of a woman had significance to Paul and other Jews: a person born to a Jewish mother - regardless of who the father was - was (and still is) considered a Jew, born according to the Law]

Jesus was born as a desendant of David

Romans 1:1-3 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh...

  • Matthew 1:1–17 A record of the origin of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham begot Isaac… [and continues on until] …and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.
  • Luke 3:23-32 When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos... [and continues until] ...the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed...
  • Matthew 9:27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!"
  • Matthew 21:9 The crowds going ahead of him, and those who followed, were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!"

Jesus was the son of God

1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven

  • Matthew 3:17 ...and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased...
  • Luke 3:22 ...and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.

Jesus was the Incarnation of God

Philippians 1:6-8 6 ...who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

  • John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • John 14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Jesus was equal to God

Philippians 2:6 ...who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped

  • John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
  • John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”

[NOTE: As consistent with my intent, I am simply providing a statement of Paul, followed by corresponding statements from the Gospels (which, in this case, are both quotes of Jesus). The Diety of Jesus is a theological topic that has been written about by many scholars and theologians, and the reader can spend a great deal of time - perhaps the rest of his or her life - reading various viewpoints on this topic. For my purposes, however, I simply want to show that a statement made by Paul has it's basis in the story of the historic Jesus]

Jesus had a brother named James

Galatians 1:18-19 ...after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother

  • Matthew 13:55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?
  • Mark 6:3 ...Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?

Jesus had disciples named Peter (Cephas) and John, later called apostles

Galatians 2:9 ...recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship...

  • Matthew 4:18-21 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them.
  • Mark 2:16-20 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

righteousness is necessary in order to inherit the Kingdom of God

1 Corinthians 6:9 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

  • Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Matthew 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father [ed: living righteously, etc] who is in heaven.
  • Matthew 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was humble

Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

  • Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
  • Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus was "delivered over" to be crucified, then resurrected

Romans 4:25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

  • Matthew 20:17-19 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”

Jesus humbled himself in obedience to the point of death on the cross

Philippians 2:8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

  • Matthew 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
  • Mark 14:36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

[NOTE: the Gospel references above are of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and "the cup" being referred to is His crucifixion]

"love your neighbor as yourself" is one of the two principle Commandments

Romans 13:8-9 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

  • Matthew 22:37-40 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
  • Mark 12:28-31 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

[NOTE: Paul doesn't mention "Love the Lord your God..." as a law seperate and equal to "love your neighbor...". Rather, he says that all commandments are "summed up" in the Commandment to "love your neighbor..." In Paul's view here, even loving God was something covered by "love your neighbor..."; one cannot truly love ones neighbor, or ones self, without first loving God.

The Apostle John expresses a similar sentiment in First John:
1 John 4:8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Jesus says both Commandments go hand-in-hand: "On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets". Paul is, as he said, simply summarizing.]

one should bless and/or pray for, enemies

Romans 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

  • Matthew 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
  • Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

[NOTE: the reference from Luke does not use the word "persecute", but in my view, it is no great stretch to understand someone's cursing and mistreating of another could be taken as persecution]

one should be willing to associate will people of low position

Romans 12:16 Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

  • Luke 14:12-13 "...When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind..."

vengeance belongs to God

Romans 12:19-20 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink"

  • Matthew 5:38-48 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you
  • Luke 6:27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you

the body is a "temple"

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?

  • John 2:19-21 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking of the temple of His body.

settling disputes should first be attempted on a personal level

1 Corinthians 6:1-6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, ...

  • Matthew 5:23-26 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. ...
  • Matthew 18:15-17 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

one should not judge another person

Romans 2:1-3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

  • Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
  • John 8:15 You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone.

Jesus shared the Passover (the "Last Supper") with the apostles on the night before he was crucified and declared that the bread and wine shared on that night were the body and blood of Jesus

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

  • Matthew 26:26-29 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.
  • Luke 22:17-20 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He said, “Take this and share it among yourselves; for I say to you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine from now on until the kingdom of God comes.” And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.

[NOTE: Paul quotes Jesus in 1 Corinthians]

"stumbling blocks" - hinderances to Believers - need to be, or shall be removed

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

  • Matthew 13:41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness

Jesus will return

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

  • Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels

God will render, or repay each man "according to his deeds"

Romans 2:5-6 But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds

  • Matthew 16:27 ...and will then repay every man according to his deeds.

Jesus was betrayed on the night of the Passover (the "Last Supper")

1 Corinthians 11:23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed...

  • Matthew 26:20-21 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. As they were eating, He said, “Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.”
  • Luke 22:21 But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table.

Jesus was crucified

Galatians 6:14 But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

  • John 19:16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
  • Matthew 27:35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
  • Luke 23:33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.
  • Mark 15:24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

Jesus was resurrected "on the third day"

1 Corinthians 15:4 ...and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...

  • Matthew 20:17-19 As Jesus was about to go up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and on the way He said to them, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”
  • Mark 8:31-32 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. And He was stating the matter plainly.

Jesus appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve

1 Corinthians 15:5 He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve."

  • Luke 24:33-34, 36 There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” --- While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
  • John 20:19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be with you.”

[ NOTE: Paul refers to "the twelve", but Luke refers to "the eleven" (since Judas was dead). Paul, however, is apparantly using "the Twelve" as something of a title for the original group of Apostles. John does the same thing: John 20:24 says "But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came". At this point, Judas has already died, yet John refers to "the twelve". So, we see both Paul and John make reference to "the twelve" either as something of a title or identifier for the original group of Apostles, or, perhaps, simply meaning "the original twelve". We see precisely this same kind of thing in our American literature: When reading a history of the United States, one might see a reference to "The Thirteen Colonies", as in this line from wikipedia:

"The Thirteen Colonies, as of 1775, were British colonies on the east coast of North America". However, wikipedia also points out "Besides these thirteen, Britain had another dozen in the New World". In other words, "The Thirteen Colonies" is simply being used as something of a title or identifier for those particular colonies that later formed the U.S. There were actually nearly double that number of colonies. ]

Jesus had a "glorified" body after resurrection, having both natural and supernatural characteristics

Philippians 3:21 Who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

  • Luke 24:36-39 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and *said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
  • John 20:24-27 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. They told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.” Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

[NOTE: in both Luke and John, Jesus appears "out of thin air", as one might suspect a spirit or a ghost to do. However, in both accounts, Jesus makes it clear that he has "flesh and bones". This was no ordinary body, subject to nature; this was a body that was subject to supernature]

Jesus ascended

1 Thessalonians 4:16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

[NOTE: Paul speaks of Jesus descending, which of course could not occur except that Jesus had first ascended]

  • Luke 24:50 And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.
  • Mark 16:19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God.

[NOTE: The account of the Ascension in the Gospel of Mark is highly disputed; it seems like the earliest available manuscripts do not include verses 9 through 20. However, I would note that the Ascension is also recorded in the Book of Acts: Acts 1:1-2 says "The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up to heaven", and, Acts 1:9 says "And after He had said these things, He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."]

Jesus' return shall be a surprise

1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

  • Mark 13:24-26, 32 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory..... But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.
  • Matthew 24:36 But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

Thus ends The List. I do not know that I've found all instances in Paul's writings that seem to demonstrate that he knew the story of the "historic Jesus"; for all I know, there may be others.

Neither do I offer a conclusion as to whether the information I've provided should be considered as sufficient to demonstrate Paul's knowledge of the "historic Jesus"; I leave such conclusions to the reader. My purpose has simply been to provide information.

I would, however, insist that Paul's letters do not constitute the whole of his teachings about Jesus.

First, we don't have any real idea of what Paul's "in-person teachings" were. What we know is what he wrote in his letters. We have no record of the in-depth and in-person teachings or evangelizing that Paul might have presented - during his many years of active evangelical missionary work - to a Gentile audience that had never heard of "Jesus of Nazareth". We have no record at all of any hour-long sermon Paul might have preached at an established church, nor of any week-long Seminar he might have given on the topic of "Knowing the Historic Jesus" (followed each evening by coffee and donuts in the fellowship hall). We just don't know. All we know is that Paul - with good reason - is not recounting the "life and times of Jesus" in his letters. The people he's writing are already Christians, already meeting together in churches, and already KNOW - at least, to some degree - "the life and times of Jesus". Paul is not trying to re-tell that story; rather, he is trying to expound on what that story means.

Second, we may, in fact, not have all of Paul's letters. There is reason to believe that Paul wrote more than two letters to the church at Corinth, a letter to the Laodiceans, an earlier letter to the church at Ephasus, and more than one letter to the church at Philippi. One might argue that the evidence for these (alleged) "lost letters" is quite speculative, but some of the evidence, in my most humble opinion, is worth consideration: Polycarp, a disciple of the Apostle John and later, Bishop of Smyrna, wrote a letter to the church at Philippi, and said "For neither am I, nor is any other like me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he was among you in the presence of the men of that time taught accurately and stedfastly the word of truth, and also when he was absent wrote letters to you..." - which would seem to indicate that Polycarp was aware of more than one letter written by Paul to the Philippians. However, this "second point" I'm making regarding alleged "lost letters of Paul" is of no great import in this writing. I make mention of it simply to avoid overlooking the possibilty.

I hope the reader will find this information useful.

© 2015 Dennis R ODonnell


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