Tuesday, November 04, 2008

'Jesus' Study: Start from the 4 gospels or Paul?

While on the phone with Steven last night, I share with him that I think John D. Crossan is right when he said that in order to learn about the Jesus and his gospel, we should start from the 4 gospels, and then we move to Paul.

Not the other way around (something that Steven might have already know). Hence our understanding of Paul's gospel and his notion of Jesus has to be understood in the light of the 4 gospels.

However, Richard Hays disagrees,

"...if critical history is our interest, there is great value in asking how Jesus looked through Paul's eyes, since Paul is our earliest extant witness. The usual procedure of taking the Gospels (written twenty to forty years later) as the primary frame of reference and asking how Paul matches up is historically anachronistic. The first step is to clarify what Paul tells us about the identity of Jesus; only then, as a second step, can we compare Paul's Jesus to information from other sources." (Richard B. Hays, 'The Story of God's Son,' in 'Seeking the Identity of Jesus: A Pilgrimage', p.199. Italic original; bold added.)

Without dismissing the fact that Paul's knowledge of Jesus is reliable, I think that even if we differ with Hays, we are not being anachronistic for the following reasons:

1) We have no evident that Paul know the historical Jesus personally or as intimately as the 12 disciples, especially the inner 3 (Peter, James, and John). In other words, Paul is not an eyewitness of the historical Jesus as far as I'm aware. On the contrary, the 4 gospels are derived from eyewitnesses.

2) Paul's letters are not meant as introductory narrative of the life of Jesus. Paul's references to Jesus always serve as a foundational support for his argument. Hence his references are not as exhaustive as the 4 gospels. On the contrary, the 4 set out as narrative about Jesus' life.

3) Paul's information about the historical Jesus was most probably received from the eyewitnesses (the 'pillars' in Jerusalem). Hence his information is sort of 'second-hand'.

4) Luke's gospel is one among the 4. And if Luke got most of his data about Jesus' life from Paul, then the relation between Paul's data and the data from the 4 is not as simple, direct, and distinguishable as Hays suggests.

5) If 'Q' exists, it is another early source about Jesus. And if Luke derived from 'Q' in writing his account, then his account must be more comprehensive than what he was able to pick up from Paul. In this case, 'Q' contains data that even Paul doesn't have.

6) If Mark's gospel really was derived from Peter, one of the inner 3, then a lot of its material must be earlier and historically revealing than Paul's.

That's what I think. How about you? Start from the 4 or Paul?


Alex Tang said...

Personally I will start from the 4

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Alex,

Same here :)