The Jesus of Paul: A contribution from the social sciences
AbstractThe letters of Paul speak more frequently of the resurrected and exalted Jesus than they do of the earthly Jesus. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the apostle and his addressees did not know the teachings and main events of Jesus’ life. Their insistence as to the heavenly identity of Jesus is as likely to have been motivated by contextual factors which guided the development of the primitive Christological confessions which Paul received in the years after his conversion. This article will focus on two of these factors: the configuration of the Christian communities of the Diaspora as foreign cults in a context of religious plurality and the new revelatory experiences which triggered the formation of a binitarian faith. Determining the relationship between Jesus and Paul is one of the fundamental tasks of those who, like Prof. Andries van Aarde, study the origins of Christianity and the beginnings of Christian theology. The basic question in this regard, at least as it has been formulated recently by David Wenham (1995), is whether Paul was a follower of Jesus or the founder of Christianity (see also Wedderburn  and Barbaglio ). In this brief article, I would like to consider one aspect of this general topic and to offer a few suggestions that might contribute to a better understanding of the peculiar vision of Jesus that we find in the letters of Paul. In them, in fact, the apostle moves from the incarnation to the death and resurrection, leaving in the shadows the activity and teaching of Jesus to which the gospels subsequently give so much importance. This contrast raises some questions concerning the knowledge which Paul had of the Jesus tradition and the value he accorded to it: What did he know about Jesus? Did he know the traditions which the evangelists later collected? Why does he not refer to them in his letters more frequently? By contrast, why does he give so much importance to the death and resurrection of Jesus and to Jesus’ divine condition?
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