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“Jesus’ teaching,” wrote Bultmann, “is … irrelevant for Paul.”1 Thus one of the greatest New Testament scholars of the twentieth century summarised his views, representing a growing consensus in the academy that stretches back over a hundred years before him. Some have gone still further and concluded that the teachings of Jesus and Paul are completely incompatible. Although many have attempted to overturn these judgments, they remain to this day the assumed backdrop of the biblical studies discourse. The liberated reason of the Enlightenment has torn asunder the canonical unity of gospels and epistles. Humpty Dumpty has fallen, and all the conservative biblical scholars have not succeeded in putting him together again. This paper begins by surveying the history of the debate concerning the relation between Jesus and Paul. We shall trace it from its inception, through its major contributors, to its subsumption into the broader debate about the historical Jesus’ relation to the kerygma, which is shown to take place amidst the general fragmentation of consensus in biblical studies. I will argue that a way past the methodological impasse is to recognise the historical situatedness of our own historiographical work. Doing so will open our ears to hear voices outside contemporary scholarship, voices which may have valuable contributions to make to the debate. I suggest that one significant contribution is the historical process of canonisation, and that its witness to the unity of Jesus and Paul, although not definitive, should be taken seriously in future discussion. The grounds for finding discontinuity between Jesus and Paul are as follows. First is the remarkable absence of dominical quotations in Paul, particularly notable when to cite Jesus would support Paul’s argument.2 Second is the radically different form of their teachings, Jesus’ comprising more “pithy, pictorial sayings,” Paul’s more “sustained and often rather complicated arguments.”3 Third is the differing substance of their theological assertions; Paul’s ‘kerygmatic’ message about the crucified and risen Christ contrasts with Jesus’ more ethics-based teaching. Finally, requiring careful consideration is Paul’s explicit ‘declaration

Rudolf Bultmann, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul,” in Faith and Understanding (London: SCM Press, 1969), 223. 2 For a list of Pauline citations of Jesus, see Victor Paul Furnish, “The Jesus -Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” in Paul and Jesus: Collected Essays, JSNT 37 (Sheffield, Eng: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989), 43–44. 3 David Wenham, Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1995), 7.


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of independence’ from the Jerusalem leadership and assert his own independent revelation as the basis of his authority.4 It is worth noting that these are observations, not arguments in themselves. They serve as raw material which has most commonly been used to produce arguments. Three figures stand out in the history of the debate as having wielded the greatest influence on its progress. The initial agenda was set in 1831 by F.C. Baur, who asserted that “in the early days of Christianity two parties – a Petrine party or party of the original Apostles, and a Pauline party – stood opposed to one another, holding divergent views on the subject of the redemption wrought by Christ.”5 Paul had therefore “developed his doctrine in complete opposition to that of the primitive Christian community.”6 In Baur’s view, Paul’s “whole Christian consciousness is transformed into a view of the person of Jesus which stands in need of no history to elucidate it.”7 Baur’s main respondent, Paret, anticipated the three major lines of argument which have been used ever since as attempts to re-harmonise Jesus and Paul.8 First, he asserted that Paul presupposes Jesus’ life and teachings as the context for his own; second, he highlighted instances in which Paul engages with, and also probably alludes to, Jesus’ teaching; third, he pointed to the incompleteness of our knowledge of Paul’s message, because we possess only a sample of his letters, and even these must have presupposed his own preaching. None of these points had much impact on the debate. The first and third were seen as essentially “an argument from silence,” Dungan notes. He goes on:
The probabilities claimed for what Paul did in his missionary preaching are merely gratuitous, for we have no direct evidence on typical missionary preaching for this period, Pauline or any other. For another, this argument must overcome the well-nigh fatal objection that it is refuted by Paul himself in Gal. 1-2… Finally… there is nothing in Paul’s letters that necessitates our thinking that his preaching was any more concerned with the historical Jesus than his letters are.9

Galatians 1:18-2:14 Albert Schweitzer, Paul and His Interpreters: a Critical History (London: A. & C. Black, 1948), 13. 6 Ibid., 12. 7 Cited in Furnish, “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” 18. 8 David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul: the Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), xix; See also S.G. Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” in From Jesus to Paul: Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare (Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984), 4: “An earlier response to Baur by Paret had already introduced most of the arguments which were to become standard from that day to this among those wishing to forge strong and indissoluble links between Jesus and Paul.” 9 Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxv.


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In Dungan’s view, there is no reason to suppose that we do not have a representative sample of Paul’s theology in the canonical epistles, nor is there any compelling evidence in these epistles that he is presupposing a substantial body of Jesus tradition. As Wilson points out, “the few references to Jesus’ teaching we do find in Paul do not suggest that he had a more extensive knowledge of the synoptic tradition than he displays: 1 Cor 11:23-26 is a liturgical snippet which Paul would have known from Eucharistic worship, and 1 Cor. 7:10 and 9:14 are probably both ‘community rules,’ i.e. sayings of Jesus which had a wide and independent circulation because they had a direct bearing on the everyday lives of Christians.”10 The problem with the second point is that “the identification of allusions… is a very subjective and therefore problematic enterprise.”11 Dunn notes that “at the beginning of the century Alfred Resch claimed to have found no fewer than 925 parallels with the Synoptic Gospels in nine Pauline letters. Furnish himself, however, could find only eight.… That there can be such a disparity at once tells us how subjective the whole exercise has been and still is.”12 Furnish thus offers a “relatively firm conclusion, that the Jesus-Paul debate has not ever been significantly advanced, nor will a solution to the Jesus-Paul problem ever be finally achieved, by locating parallel passages in Paul and the Gospels.”13 The second influential figure in the debate is William Wrede, whose 1904 publication popularised the extreme view that “Paul was not a disciple of Jesus, and he did not deify Jesus. Rather he held a concept of ‘a celestial being, a divine Christ before he believed in Jesus.’”14 At Jesus’ visionary appearance on the Damascus road, Paul “identified him with his own Christ, and straightaway transferred to Jesus all the conceptions which he already had of the celestial being.”15 For Wrede, “the life-work and life-picture of Jesus did not determine the Pauline theology.”16 This radical disconnect led Wrede famously to label Paul the “second founder of Christianity,” who “exercised beyond all doubt the stronger – not the better – influence… He has thrust that greater person, whom he meant only to serve, utterly into the background.”17

Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” 8. Furnish, “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” 44. 12 James D.G. Dunn, “Jesus Tradition in Paul,” in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research, NTTS v. 19 (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 160. 13 Furnish, “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” 44. 14 John W. Fraser, Jesus & Paul: Paul as interpreter of Jesus from Harnack to Kümmel (Abingdon: Marcham Manor Press, 1974), 13. 15 William Wrede, Paul (London: Philip Green, 1907), 151. 16 Ibid., 165. 17 Ibid., 180.


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Wrede immediately provoked a fusillade of responses attacking every aspect of his depiction. But none was able to fully dethrone it. As Furnish notes, “while some details of Wrede’s thesis had been refuted, the general impression was left that his overall point remained standing.”18 Some nuancing was achieved by scholars like Weiss and Heitmüller, but Wilson states that “the central issues they raised and the conclusions they drew were never effectively countered in their time – and it is not clear that recent discussions have been much more successful.”19 Bultmann, the third major contributor to the debate, gave a fresh angle to the question by noting the third factor between Jesus and Paul: the Hellenistic Christian community.20 In Bultmann’s view, Paul came to know Christianity through its Hellenist wing, “in which a disinterest regarding the historical Jesus prevailed.”21 Bultmann never explains how “all our gospels” in which such interest is most apparent, were nonetheless “written in an Hellenistic environment.”22 He merely acknowledges the paradox, and states that, “this puzzle can only be solved by recognizing that there were strata of Hellenistic Christianity of which so far little is known, and on the further working out of which everything must depend.”23 In other words, he expresses confidence in future research and investigation to shed light on the issue. In the meantime, he remains confident that, “if [Paul] found [Jesus-tradition] current in the Hellenistic communities known to him, he ignored it for the most part.”24 For Bultmann, the fact of Jesus’ existence in history is the only important thing to Paul, not the details of what that existence actually looked like. He writes, “when Paul says that the decisive saving act of Christ is ‘obedience’ and ‘love’, he is not thinking of the personal characteristics of the historical Jesus (Phil. 2:6ff.; II Cor. 8:9; Rom. 5:18f.; 15:1f) … The relevant passages all speak rather of the pre-existent Christ.”25 It is the proclamation of Christ’s death and resurrection, the ‘Kerygma’ which is Paul’s message. “For Paul, Christ is not the teacher who has taught a new concept of God, a new view of the world, a new morality.”26 No, for Paul “Jesus Christ confronts men in the Kerygma and nowhere else.”27

Furnish, “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” 28. Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” 5 . 20 This insight partially derives from Heitmüller, as Bultmann acknowledges. See Bultmann, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul,” 222. 21 Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxi. 22 Bultmann, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul,” 22 2. 23 Cited in Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxii. 24 Furnish, “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann,” 222. 25 Bultmann, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul,” 246. Italics original. 26 Ibid., 239. Italics original.


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Bultmann’s influence on New Testament scholarship can hardly be underestimated. He sent a shockwave through the entire discipline, the ripples of which lasted decades and are only recently becoming clearly understood.28 It is true to say of him what Jürgen Habermas said of other seminal thinkers, that he “inserted a genuinely philosophical idea like a detonator into a particular context of research,”29 forever changing that context. It is also true that in many ways he had the last word in the Jesus-Paul debate as it stands. Wilson notes that ever since the various “essays by Bultmann, which have justifiably received a great deal of attention, discussion of the Jesus-Paul question has been a desultory affair and has not been conducted with the consuming passion of earlier days.”30 There have been many critiques of Bultmann, some improving aspects of his work. But his core schema, alongside those of Baur and Wrede, remains part of the backdrop of any discussion about Jesus’ relationship to Paul. Since Bultmann’s work there have been two developments worth mentioning. First, the work of Anton Fridrichsen has done much to counterbalance the emphasis on Paul’s independence from the other Apostles based on Galatians 1-2, by pointing both to Paul’s use of παράδοσις/ παραδίδωμι as an explicit reliance on the Jesus-tradition (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:1-2) and also to the book of Acts’ “portrayal of Paul’s close relationship with the Jerusalem leaders.”31 The second and more significant development is the rise of narrative criticism in the 1980s, which exposed avenues of meaning in biblical texts which had previously been hidden from view. Initially pioneered in Old Testament studies,32 this movement soon bore fruit also in application to the New Testament, especially the gospels and Acts. It carried the insight that theology does not have to be propositional in nature (like the Pauline epistles), but can also be powerfully expressed in the dynamics of a story, the same way ideology can be inherent in art. The implications for Jesus-Paul scholarship are obvious, as the narratives of the gospels may be mined for theological significance, and a rapprochement discovered

Ibid., 241. Italics original. Thus Braaten, in 1964, points out the “reactionary” nature of initial responses to Bultmann: “Much of the literature regarding Bultmann’s program and its implications has sunk into oblivion for the simple reason that it has been precipitate, more catapulted than the result of careful reflection.” - Rudolf Bultmann, “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus,” in The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ; Essays on the New Quest of the Historical Jesus, ed by. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Abingdon Press, 1964), 5. 29 Jürgen Habermas, “Philosophy as Stand-in and Interpreter,” in The Continental Philosophy Reader, ed by. Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater, 1st ed. (New York: Routledge, 1996), 248. 30 Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” 2. 31 Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxvii. 32 Robert Alter’s work represents a turning point in popularising the narrative approach for the Old Testament. See Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981).


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between their implicit theology and the explicit theology of Paul. For example, the gospel narratives slow down dramatically as they approach the crucifixion, and it forms the keystone of the story for all of them. This points to the centrality of the cross in the gospels in a way that is not made explicit at any point in them, but is made explicit in Paul. An excellent implementation of this is Michael Morson’s work on the connection between the use of the term εὐαγγέλιον in Paul and Luke’s gospel. He demonstrates that, for both Paul and Luke, the crucifixion/resurrection event is central to their understanding of the εὐαγγέλιον. He does this, not by performing an exhaustive word-study of the term in Luke-Acts and the Pauline corpus, but by analysing the development of its use in its immediate narrative context in Luke and then comparing the theology found therein to the emphases given in Paul. Morson concludes that “the reason why the cross is so central to the gospel of Paul is because, given the place where Paul stood in the scheme of redemptive history, the cross represented the fullest portrayal of the gospel’s content.”33 However, neither of these developments escaped the shadow of Bultmann, for two reasons. First, Bultmann never denied a level of material correspondence between Paul and Jesus: he merely saw this as incidental because Paul was not concerned to demonstrate his dependence on the Jesus-tradition.34 But second and more important, Bultmann had already drawn a sharp distinction in the gospel material between the ‘historical Jesus’ and the ‘kerygmatic Christ’. Bultmann distinguishes between the life and teachings of Jesus as they occurred in history on the one hand, and on the other, the proclamation of Jesus as Christ by the early church, which forms the interpretive lens through which the gospels were written. He insists that the early church was not concerned very much with history at all, but rather with the kerygma, with proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. The only important thing about the historical Jesus is the bare fact that he was historical – what Bultmann calls the ‘that’ of his existence.35 The ‘how’ and the ‘what’ – Jesus’ personality and what he taught – are mostly irrelevant. For Bultmann this applies to the entire New Testament in varying degrees. He writes, “Paul and John, each in his own way, indicate that we do not need to go beyond the
Michael Morson, “Paul’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel” (presented at the Jesus & Paul Seminar, Vancouver: Regent College, 2012), 2. 34 Bultmann speaks of a “far reaching agreement in content between the theology of Paul and Jesus’ proclamation” in the area of law, which is of no small significance in the overall teaching of either. See Bultmann, “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul,” 223; John Barclay makes use of Bultmann to demonstrate further congruity between Jesus and Paul. In this he sees Bultmann as an ally. See John Barclay, “‘Offensive and Uncanny’: Jesus and Paul on the Caustic Grace of God,” in Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways Into an Old Debate, ed by. Todd D. Still (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007). 35 Bultmann, “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus,” 20.

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‘that’. Paul proclaims the incarnate, crucified, and risen Lord: that is, his kerygma requires only the ‘that’ of the life of Jesus and the fact of his crucifixion…. John gives all due emphasis to the humanity of Jesus, but presents none of the characteristics of Jesus’ humanity which could be gleaned, for example, from the Synoptic Gospels. The decisive thing is simply the ‘that’.”36 Even the synoptics, for Bultmann, are not primarily about the historical Jesus, and little of historical value can be ‘gleaned’ from them at all: “the Synoptic Gospels do not suffice as sources for a reconstruction of the life of Jesus,” because most of the material in the gospels was invented by the early church as part of their kerygma. The “prophecies of the passion,” for example, “must be understood by critical research as vaticinia ex eventu.”37 In short:
The combination of historical report and kerygmatic Christology in the Synoptic Gospels is not for the purpose of giving historical legitimacy to the Christ-kerygma, but quite the reverse, of giving legitimacy to the history of Jesus as messianic history, as it were, by viewing it in the light of the kerygmatic Christology.38

Denying to the synoptic gospels all but a kernel of historicity undermines any attempt to demonstrate continuity between the historical Jesus and the Pauline corpus by means of the theological substance of the gospels. Narrative criticism came too late to save the day. All it was able to do was find congruity between Paul and the gospels in their canonical form: the historical Jesus had slipped from its grasp. The book of Acts fared no better as a reliable historical source, a reality of which Fridrichsen was well aware in his own attempt to show continuity between Paul and the Jesus-tradition. Dungan notes that “essential to Fridrichsen’s reconstruction of events was extensive utilization of Acts and its portrayal of Paul’s close relationship with the Jerusalem leaders. But to make this acceptable, a major reversal of the widespread scepticism concerning Acts historical reliability was necessary.”39 This reversal did not, however, take root in the scholarly community, and Fridrichsen’s contribution to the Jesus-Paul debate has been swept away with it. It is probably for this reason that the Jesus-Paul debate dissipated after Bultmann. As Wilson notes, “the Jesus-Paul controversy has been subsumed under the broader question of the relationship between the historical Jesus and the kerygmatic Christ. These two issues are,

36 37

Ibid. “Foretelling after the event” - Ibid., 23. 38 Ibid., 24–25. Italics mine. 39 Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxvii.

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of course, not identical, but there is sufficient common ground for us to suppose that the Jesus-Paul issue has been not so much ignored as it has been discussed under a somewhat different guise.”40 It is not, however, as though any consensus existed concerning the level of historical reliability of the gospels, or any other part of the New Testament. On the contrary, recent decades have witnessed a fragmentation in opinion unprecedented in the history of academia. The most respected scholars in the guild, using purportedly the same methodology and toolsof-the-trade, nonetheless disagree almost entirely about the historicity of the gospels. On the one hand, we have the Jesus Seminar’s radical scepticism which attributes almost no reliability to the gospel accounts.41 But of equal weight and opposite opinion is N.T. Wright, whose work cannot be described as other than ‘maximalist’ in its reliance on the same accounts.42 To this feature of biblical studies Dale Allison has given extensive comment. He writes:
Study of the historical Jesus belongs to the diversity and pluralism of modernity, or, if you prefer, postmodernity, and there can be no easy appeal to the consensus on much of anything. The biblical guild is not a group-mind thinking the same thoughts. Nor are the experts a single company producing a single product, ‘history’. As Chesterton says somewhere: ‘There is no history; there are only historians’. The unification of academic opinion would be almost as miraculous as the union of the churches. If you are holding your breath waiting for the consensus of the specialists, you will pass out. So if we are to do something with the historical Jesus, it will have to be someone’s particular historical Jesus – Wright’s Jesus or Crossan’s Jesus or Sanders’s Jesus; it can no longer be the Jesus of the guild or the Jesus of the scholars, because they, in their writings and at their academic conferences, argue with each other over almost everything.43

This tendency was anticipated by participants in the Jesus-Paul debate even as the breakup of consensus about more basic issues was becoming apparent. Dungan comments near the end of his historical survey that, “the debate continues, as each side periodically makes additional contributions from within its own presuppositions and, largely, for its own audiences.”44 Wilson likewise notes, “We cannot but be deeply sceptical whether the Jesus-

Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” 2. Robert Funk, The Five Gospels, Reprint. (Harperone, 1997). 42 See, for example, N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: v. 2: Christian Origins and the Question of God (SPCK Publishing, 1996). 43 Dale C. Allison Jr., The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009), 11. 44 Dungan, The sayings of Jesus in the churches of Paul, xxv.


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Paul question is in principle answerable, because lurking in the background there is always the question, Which Jesus and which Paul?”45 The sceptical aura surrounding these three conclusions, from Dungan, Wilson and Allison, is indicative of the general feeling that we do not know how to move forward. We disagree, we have stated the reasons for our disagreements, and we have failed to convince one another. All that is left is to remain entrenched in our former opinions and stare at each other across the battlefield. Indeed, it is worse than that, for a battle typically comprises two or three opposing parties: the present fragmentation is better compared to all-out anarchy. The diversity of opinion has led some to wonder whether something is missing, some tool in the toolbox or dimension of the debate. I want to suggest that an awareness of our own place in history is a dimension that, if added, may shed light on the present confusion. We can see hints of this awareness seeping through in the above scholars. Wilson, for example, uses his survey of the debate to reflect on the future, and asks an important question: “Without diminishing the genuine advances of scholarship in this century, can we doubt that fifty or a hundred years from now our radical, eschatological Jesus will look as strange and as lopsided as the ‘liberal’ Jesus looks to us now?”46 Allison makes the same point:
Even if there were some sort of contemporary consensus, … would it not be unwise to build a house of faith upon a recent academic head-count? Famous names rise and fall. Ideas come and go. Today’s consensus will be tomorrow’s memory. Big books on Jesus are like the clouds: no matter how large, imposing, and beautiful they may be, they never last for long. There will never be any definitive non-canonical edition of his life.47

To reflect on our history, the history of modern biblical scholarship, can lead us to an awareness of our own subjectivity. As Dunn points out, “in the study of history there are no objective facts, only interpreted data.”48 History is by nature a subjective discipline, because it involves making judgments about probability based on perceptions of human nature which are rooted, ultimately, in the historian’s own experience. The philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, a figure much celebrated in biblical scholarship, has done much to highlight the reality of all human beings’ historical situatedness and the importance of recognising this in historiographical work. The philosophical underpinnings of modern historiography derive

Wilson, “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences,” 17. Ibid. 47 Allison, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, 10. Italics mine. 48 Cited in Andrew Perriman, “Quote: James D.G. Dunn: There is no objective Jesus”, October 13, 2011, (accessed November 25, 2012).


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largely from Leopold von Ranke’s idea of “historical objectivism” – the belief that history, like science, should be detached and objective. But, Gadamer writes:
Our actual experience of the historical consciousness in the last one hundred years has taught us most emphatically that there are serious difficulties involved in its claim to historical objectivity. Even in those masterworks of historical scholarship that seem to be the very consummation of the extinguishing of the individual demanded by Ranke, it is still an unquestioned principle of our scientific experience that we can classify these works with unfailing accuracy in terms of the political tendencies of the time in which they were written.49

This inevitable subjectivity based on our historical situatedness Gadamer calls “historically effected consciousness.”50 He provides reasons for its importance:
When a naïve faith in scientific method denies the existence of effective history, there can be an actual deformation of knowledge. … But on the whole the power of effective history does not depend on its being recognized. This, precisely, is the power of history over finite human consciousness, namely that it prevails even where faith in method leads one to deny one’s own historicity. Our need to become conscious of effective history is urgent because it is necessary for scientific consciousness.51

To apply this insight to an aspect of the Jesus-Paul debate, we can see how Wrede’s view of Paul is distorted by an unconsciousness of his own historical situatedness. Hans Rollmann has shown that Wrede’s historiographical approach is defective, “because it conceived historical knowledge ultimately as object-centred.”52 Wrede was “uncritical and nonhistorical regarding his category formation in assuming that these interpretative categories were unambiguously correlative to the historical object.”53 Rollmann provides two examples. First, Wrede’s division of the gospel of Mark into ‘historical’ and ‘dogmatic’ strata, categories which he unconsciously imposed on Mark from a nineteenth-century outlook. Second, Wrede’s “separation of the ethical personalism of Jesus from the dogmatic Christ of Paul by means of a quasi-experiential, quasi-ethical, and quasi-aesthetic criterion.”54 Based on these examples, Rollmann concludes:
Wrede conceded subjectivity merely to the ancient writer. … But any future ‘critical historicism’ will have to take seriously into account the historians’ own positions and

Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical hermeneutics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), 6. Merold Westphal, Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church (Baker Academic, 2009), 74. The German term is often untranslated: “wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein” but I have here translated it because the Germa n sounded far too pompous. 51 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000), 301. 52 Hans Rollmann, “Paulus alienus: William Wrede on Comparing Jesus and Paul,” in From Jesus to Paul: Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare (Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984), 33. Italics mine. 53 Ibid., 32. 54 Ibid.


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the historicity of their category formation. This applies all the more to historical comparisons where one encounters not merely the problems of interpretation, but also the additional difficulty of choosing an adequate standard for comparison.55

The last phrase highlights the additional difficulty in Jesus-Paul studies because of the threefold historical situatedness – of Jesus, of Paul, and of ourselves – demanding an even greater need for awareness of historical situatedness as a caution in setting forth conclusions. Although historical situatedness relativises our standpoint and conclusions, it need not annihilate their value or lead to despair about ever making progress in understanding. It merely raises awareness of our need for the stabilising force of voices outside our own historical situation to challenge and correct our own. Every historic period has blind spots, unconscious assumptions which affect their interpretations and understanding. Although we can never completely eradicate our blind spots, we can mitigate their damaging effect on our interpretation by learning how others interpreted. Gadamer notes, “This does not mean [awareness of historical situatedness] can ever be absolutely fulfilled. … Rather, historically effected consciousness is an element in the act of understanding itself and, as we shall see, is already effectual in finding the right questions to ask.”56 It is this groundwork, of ‘finding the right questions’, that can serve to reframe the JesusPaul debate and redirect it into more fruitful avenues. The questions we ask of the text set the trajectory of our interaction and learning, establishing the direction of investigation. In what follows all I can hope to do is point in the direction I believe we should go, and evidence it as a good direction by means of the stabilising force of voices from outside our own point in history. I suggest that to view the Jesus-Paul debate through the interpretive lens of canon, not as a dogmatic construct, but as a historical fact, can provide a context which elucidates many of the problems the debate has so far encountered. Historical work on canon formation was given prominence by Brevard Childs. The uniqueness of Childs’ method was that he did not draw his initial stance on canon from dogmatic categories, or ignore the claims of historical criticism on the biblical text. Rather he used historical critical methodologies to discover the significance of the category of canon for biblical interpretation. That is to say: not as a theologian, but as a card-carrying biblical scholar, Childs demonstrated the importance of the canonical process for understanding the
55 56

Ibid., 33. Italics mine. Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301. Italics original.

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nature of the biblical text. He writes, “it is a misunderstanding of the canonical method to characterize it as an attempt to bring extrinsic, dogmatic categories to bear on the biblical text by which to stifle the genuine exegetical endeavour. Rather, the approach seeks to work within that interpretative structure which the biblical text has received from those who formed and used it as sacred scripture.”57 To recognise the Bible as sacred scripture is not to take a theological position concerning it, but merely to acknowledge the purpose both of its production and of its consumption as taking place within a particular community. Childs writes, “the canonical process was not simply an external validation of successive stages of literary development, but was an integral part of the literary process.”58 To view the Bible as canon is not to dictate or pre-determine the way it should be interpreted, but rather to give notice to its nature as a matter of fact, not opinion. It is a fact that the New Testament was canonised by a community, a process which took a long period of time. What might we learn from this? Attention to the canonisation process highlights the importance, for interpretation, of the initial community context in which the New Testament was received. Gadamer has shown the value of interpretive community by means of the philosophical category of the sensus communis. The term does not mean ‘common sense’ but denotes an intuition gained by participation in a community, which cannot necessarily be logically explained to those outside. “The sensus communis is the sense of what is right … acquired through living in the community.”59 Anthony Thiselton shows how Childs brings these two insights together:
Childs recognizes the correlation between canon and community. … It is axiomatic for serious hermeneutical endeavour that author-centred and text-centred hermeneutics do not offer all dimensions of hermeneutics or communicative action unless at least some attention has been given to the stance of communities of readers. … Value-free scholarship (if such were to exist) would not be served by insulating text from ‘reception’. 60

The community that birthed a text may have insight into the right questions to ask it to elucidate its meaning, questions that may not occur to those outside the community. This is

Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 1st American ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979), 73. 58 Ibid., 77–78. 59 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, New edition. (Continuum, 2004), 20. 60 Anthony C. Thiselton, “Canon, Community and Theological Construction,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, ed by. Craig G. Bartholomew et al., Scripture and Hermeneutics Series v. 7 (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 6. Italics original.


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particularly true if the text is in some way authoritative for that community, if the community is actively seeking to be shaped by the text. Allison makes this point clearly:
What we see is always a function of our being. Adults see differently than do children, and bats perceive the world differently than do flies. … Knowledge of Jesus has a similar correlation. For Jesus was, among other things, a moral teacher, and the truth of his teaching is in the living. Those who seek to conduct their lives in the light of the canonical accounts of his life and speech will understand him differently than those who find guidance elsewhere.61

Craig Allert, an expert on canon formation, offers the following analogy: “when I want legal advice, I do not go to my colleagues in theology or biblical studies, nor do they come to me. I go to a lawyer who knows the legal community and how it works – he lives in it. Similarly, when I want to know something about the gospel message, I go to the church as the privileged interpreter because this is where the Bible grew.”62 Robert Wilken applies this insight to biblical studies: “Any effort to mount an interpretation of the Bible that ignores its first readers is doomed to end up with a bouquet of fragments.”63 And fragments, we have already noted, is precisely what we now have. This does not mean that interpretations by those outside the community have nothing valuable to add. Recognition of the New Testament as canonical literature need not lead to prescriptive interpretation, but is merely an important aspect of the text which should be taken into consideration. We can see how this applies to the Jesus-Paul debate when we make the simple point that the early Christian community read Jesus and Paul together, and perceived no contradiction or even tension between them. The evidence for this is overwhelming and almost unnecessary to mention. A simple glance at the scripture index of any contemporary publication of the work of an Ante-Nicene Father will make the point. The gospels and the Pauline epistles are cited side by side throughout most of their works. See, for example, 1 Clement, a book composed so early in the life of the church as to be sometimes dated before certain canonical books. Clement continually refers to the gospels and Paul, sometimes quoting Jesus and other times expanding on Pauline themes. He is far from unusual in this respect, but it is possible to make an argument going even further back than Clement. As noted above, Bultmann admitted his inability to explain how the Hellenistic Christians were uninterested in the
61 62

Allison, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus, 47. Italics mine. Craig D. Allert, A High View of Scripture?: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon (Baker Academic, 2007), 85–86. 63 Cited in Ibid., 86.

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historical Jesus and yet at the same time produced all four canonical gospels. It is the biggest weakness in Bultmann’s whole schema, and while he looked to future biblical scholarship to solve this problem, I think it simpler to source the problem in Bultmann. I suggest that the early Hellenists were in fact interested in Jesus. They found harmony in Jesus and Paul and did not feel the need to choose between them. However, my argument does not rest on this hypothesis, only on the recognition that at some stage, most likely very early, the entire church read Jesus and Paul harmoniously. The usual response to this recognition is to dismiss the early witness as naïve or blinkered by dogmatic agenda. But this is either arrogant or an anachronism. ‘Dogma’ is precisely what was being determined by the canonical process – or at least, there was a dialectic between scripture and dogma; it is inaccurate to say that dogma determined scripture without acknowledging that scripture concurrently determined dogma. As for the attribution of naïveté, it is precisely this arrogant posture of which consciousness of our own historical situatedness can cure us. For example, the Hellenization thesis of Adolf Harnack accuses the early Christians of imposing Greek philosophical categories on the Bible. Harnack and his followers have always run roughshod over the nuanced way the Patristics selected Platonic ideas, using some and rejecting others. Harnack treats the Fathers essentially as ignorant, unconsciously forcing scripture onto a procrustean bed in a manner of which Harnack would never consider himself guilty. It seems astonishing to attribute this level of intellectual disadvantage to some of the top scholars of the ancient world, and reveals Harnack’s own historical situadedness as an Enlightenment scholar with little regard for intelligence outside his own age. On the contrary, as Childs points out, “pre-critical interpreters often saw dimensions of the text more clearly than those whose perspective was brought into focus by purely historical questions.”64 Daniel Migliore makes the same point about historical Jesus studies. The present state of the quest represents enormous diversity of opinion. But once upon a time there was a consensus. “We would do well to consider the possibility that the church at Nicea might have gotten some very important things right about the Gospel witness—that it might have been closer to the mystery of Jesus' identity than was Arius in the fourth century, Adolf von Harnack in the 19th or the Jesus Seminar in the 21st.”65

Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 82. Daniel L. Migliore, “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus,” Christian Century 127, no. 2 (Ja 2010): 40.


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A further objection is often made that the early church leaders’ primary motivations were political, and the canon represents a desperate attempt to enforce unity among rival factions within the church. Space does not permit me to deal thoroughly with this objection, as it would require another paper of the same length. Here I will only note the existence of numerous quasi-Christian groups and apocryphal gospels in the first century, unity with which does not seem to have been a concern to the Christian leadership. For the early church, something held Paul and the Jesus of the four gospels together in a way that did not have its parallel in the epistle of Barnabas or the gospel of Thomas. Is it not worthwhile, rather than assuming from the outset that this ‘something’ has its roots in political machinations, to ask if the early church perceived a theological unity to Jesus and Paul, regardless of whether we have eyes also to perceive that unity? I do not mean by this to set up the early Christian community as normative interpreters of Jesus and Paul. I am simply arguing that their status as the first readers gives them hermeneutical significance, requiring that their interpretation be taken at least as seriously as we would like our own interpretations to be taken, if not more so. My purpose here has not been to offer answers, but to ask whether we are asking the right questions. Another example of this approach can be seen in the observation that there are contradictions between the gospel accounts. When we discover these contradictions, our Enlightenment-trained minds jump to the question: “What, therefore, is the real chronology of Jesus’ life?” But this misses the fact that the early Christian community cannot have been oblivious to these contradictions. Perhaps for them the gospels, although certainly understood as historical in nature, served a different purpose than chronological precision. Perhaps if we ask instead, “why did the gospel writers arrange their material as they did?” we may discover more about the meaning of the text as narrative theology than any historical reconstruction could do. In the same way, when the gospels and Pauline epistles are viewed as documents shared by a single community, we are directed to ask not “are Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings compatible?” but “how might their teachings be harmonised?” In other words, it gives us an a priori precedent for expecting Jesus and Paul to be compatible, and a non-dogmatic reason for choosing a harmonising reading over a disharmonising one. Consciousness of our historical limitations brings about a humility which can lead, paradoxically, to an increased confidence in the results of our scholarship, when we read together with a broader, bigger, and older community than the biblical studies guild. I wish to encourage us, when we find tension between the gospels and Paul, to view this tension within the context of an assumed

Barnabas Aspray


common ideological base: the first community which treasured these writings as sacred and sought to live their lives by them.

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Allert, Craig D. A High View of Scripture?: The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon. Baker Academic, 2007. Allison, Dale C., Jr. The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009. Alter, Robert. The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books, 1981. Barclay, John. “‘Offensive and Uncanny’: Jesus and Paul on the Caustic Grace of God.” In Jesus and Paul Reconnected: Fresh Pathways Into an Old Debate, edited by Todd D. Still. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2007. Bultmann, Rudolf. “The Primitive Christian Kerygma and the Historical Jesus.” In The Historical Jesus and the Kerygmatic Christ; Essays on the New Quest of the Historical Jesus, edited by Carl E. Braaten. New York: Abingdon Press, 1964. ———. “The Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul.” In Faith and Understanding. London: SCM Press, 1969. Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. 1st American ed. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1979. Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul: the Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971. Dunn, James D.G. “Jesus Tradition in Paul.” In Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research. NTTS v. 19. Leiden: Brill, 1994. Fraser, John W. Jesus & Paul: Paul as interpreter of Jesus from Harnack to Kümmel. Abingdon: Marcham Manor Press, 1974. Funk, Robert. The Five Gospels. Reprint. Harperone, 1997. Furnish, Victor Paul. “The Jesus-Paul Debate: From Baur to Bultmann.” In Paul and Jesus: Collected Essays. JSNT 37. Sheffield, Eng: Sheffield Academic Press, 1989. Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Philosophical hermeneutics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. ———. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. ed. New York: Continuum, 2000. ———. Truth and Method. New edition. Continuum, 2004. Habermas, Jürgen. “Philosophy as Stand-in and Interpreter.” In The Continental Philosophy Reader, edited by Richard Kearney and Mara Rainwater. 1st ed. New York: Routledge, 1996. Migliore, Daniel L. “The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus.” Christian Century 127, no. 2 (Ja 2010): 39–40. Morson, Michael. “Paul’s Gospel, Luke’s Gospel”. Vancouver: Regent College, 2012. Perriman, Andrew. “Quote: James D.G. Dunn: There is no objective Jesus”, October 13, 2011. (accessed November 25, 2012). Rollmann, Hans. “Paulus alienus: William Wrede on Comparing Jesus and Paul.” In From Jesus to Paul: Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984. Schweitzer, Albert. Paul and His Interpreters: a Critical History. London: A. & C. Black, 1948. Thiselton, Anthony C. “Canon, Community and Theological Construction.” In Canon and Biblical Interpretation, edited by Craig G. Bartholomew, Scott Hahn, Robin Parry, Christopher Seitz, and Al Wolters. Scripture and Hermeneutics Series v. 7. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006. Wenham, David. Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1995.

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Westphal, Merold. Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church. Baker Academic, 2009. Wilson, S.G. “From Jesus to Paul: Contours and Consequences.” In From Jesus to Paul: Studies in Honour of Francis Wright Beare. Waterloo, Ont: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984. Wrede, William. Paul. London: Philip Green, 1907. Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God: v. 2: Christian Origins and the Question of God. SPCK Publishing, 1996.

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