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Chronology Matters

November 6, 2019

Mentioning A.M. Hunter’s book, Paul and His Predecessors, yesterday brought to mind an earlier posting in which I drew attention to Hengel’s essay on “Chronology and New Testament Christology” here.  

In that posting I lay out Hengel’s major points and one or two of my own.  Most relevant is this one:

By most calculations, Paul underwent the reorientation from opponent of the Jesus-movement to a powerful proponent of it within ca. 2-3 years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Prior to that reorientation (which he portrays as caused by a divine revelation), he was a dedicated opponent of the Jesus-movement.  In his own words, he sought to “ravage/destroy” it (Galatians 1:13).  So, already at that point something(s) about the Jesus-movement made him feel it necessary to oppose it so vigorously.  His language in Gal. 1:13 does not connote some minor disciplinary action, but a much more severe aim.

He describes the experience that changed his mind as a “revelation” of God’s Son.  The cognitive content of the experience was all about the status and significance of Jesus.  This suggests that his previous view was a very negative one about Jesus, and about the claims made about him by Jesus-believers.  So, the decisive christological views that Paul came to affirm were already developed in that remarkably short period of perhaps 2-3 years after Jesus’ execution.

Paul’s own distinctive view and mission was based on the further conviction that the prophesied time had arrived when the pagan nations would come to the God of Israel.  Jesus’ resurrection was proof of this, making him now the exalted Lord through whom pagans (Gentiles) could come to the one God without proselyte conversion.  They were to renounce their pagan gods and certain behaviours, but they were not to make a proselyte conversion (which, for males, included circumcision).  Paul not only believed that the time had come for this, but also that he was personally deputized by God to declare this message to the nations, making Paul himself a salvation-historical figure.

This is “the gospel that is preached by me” (Gal. 1:11), and “the gospel that I preach among the nations” (Gal. 2:2).  Paul didn’t create his christology or the devotional practices that he affirmed.  But the boldness of his sense of mission, and his unstinting commitment to it, made a major contribution to the subsequent shape of what became Christianity.

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  1. Hanoch permalink


    Thank you for this post.

    May I comment on the early “friction” regarding Paul’s apostolic commission to the nations:

    Both Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-4 tell of the nations streaming to the exalted mountain of the house of YHWH, to the house of the God of Jacob, to receive the “Torah” from Zion, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem.

    The first generation of Jewish followers of Jesus who studied the prophets (compare Acts 8:26-35) almost certainly knew and believed that ultimately the gentiles, as gentiles, would somehow directly participate in Israel’s eschatological blessings. The question was, when?

    So, Jesus’s Damascus road commissioning of Paul was not antagonistic to the Hebrew prophets, but was more a re-ordering of the sequence of how those prophecies would play out, in contrast to prevailing first century interpretations.

    The ordering of Hebrew prophecy doubtless occupied the Jerusalem-based Jewish followers of Jesus: How could gentiles directly participate in Israel’s eschatological promises before the return of Jesus to reign as King Messiah in the exalted Jerusalem? This question may have been part of the underlying motivation for demanding Jewish “conversion” of gentile believers in Messiah Jesus (Acts 15:1,5) in an “Israel’s exaltation first” outlook of prophecy.

    And speaking of timing, if the events of Acts 10-11 occurred some ten years after the resurrection, then there did not seem to be an initial rush to proclaim the good news widely to the nations. But in Acts 15:13-21, guided by Hebrew prophecy, the Jewish leadership finally recognized the current order: “Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.” So, in the interim until Jerusalem’s exaltation under King Messiah’s reign (Acts 1:6-7), there would be called from out of the Gentiles “a people for God’s name”, just as there was also currently a Jewish remnant (Romans 11:1-5).

    Luke may be hinting at this question in Acts 2 by using the phraseology of Isaiah-Micah (LXX) to introduce Joel’s eschatological promise of the outpoured Spirit (a promise likewise revealed to be currently available to the nations through Israel’s Messiah in Acts 10:43-45):

    Is. 2:2 Ὅτι ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις

    Mic. 4:1 Καὶ ἔσται ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτων τῶν ἡμερῶν

    Acts 2:17 καὶ ἔσται ἐν ταῖς ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις

  2. Hello Professor Hurtado. It would seem that based on Paul’s writings, his Christology was a mixture of inherited doctrine (Christ died, was buried and was raised – 1 Corinthians) and his own unique mystical interpretation of his encounter with the risen Christ ( For I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. – Gal 1, 11-12). In this instance, it sure sounds like Paul’s gospel is referring to a lot more than simply including gentiles into the church of believers. Paul did not create the earliest Christian creeds, but he does appear to have elaborated on them a good deal.

    • Again, whoever you are, please use your name, not some silly moniker. Second, the “mystical” experience of the risen Jesus didn’t commence with Paul, but with the earliest Jesus-followers. It is your presumption/assertion that Paul “elaborated” the creeds, but you offer no evidence. And Paul makes no such claim.

      • Hello Professor Hurtado and apologies for the “silly moniker.” I really wasn’t trying to be coy or cute, it’s just how WordPress lists my account (hope it doesn’t do it again). Anyway, to the mind of this admitted non-scholar, the evidence for the point I’m making is in the writing I quoted earlier in Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters,that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” – Gal 1, 11-12. To me, that sounds like Paul is pointing out the sharp contrasts between “taught” human gospels and his own, divinely revealed, gospel. Is that an elaboration or an addendum to early Christian creeds? Whichever the case, Paul does seem to be telling us that his gospel is one-of-a-kind. – Jack Dalby, Leesburg, VA, USA

      • Jack: I’ve spoken to the Gal 1:11-12 text already in responses to previous comments. The phrasing “the gospel that I preach” and in 2:2 “the gospel that I preach among the nations/gentiles” clearly refers to Paul’s message of massive gentile inclusion into the family of Abraham and God solely on the basis of faith in Jesus and without the full Torah-observance demanded by his opponents. If you consider this an elaboration of “creed” ok. But the point is that what was revealed to Paul was this eschatological ingathering of gentiles and Paul’s own distinctive role in bringing it about.

  3. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H,
    First, thanks for pointing us to Hunter. His work is certainly in line with EHC. I found his arguments compelling. Second, Acts conveys Saul-Paul as drastically opposed to the Jesus movement and even more radically an advocate. I appreciate your continued posting!

  4. eliadefollower permalink

    I would note with regards to the chronology, that I think we need to assign a date of 33 CE for the crucifixion in order to meet all the criteria set forth in the gospels as to what happened. Pilate’s actions for example make the most sense in occurring in 33. And we can put a late date on Paul’s conversion at 37 CE if we trust his accounts. He claims to have spent three years in Arabia before returning to Damascus where King Aretas’s ethnarch tried to capture him. As King Aretas died in 40, for Paul to have had three years post-conversion prior to that, 37 is the latest possible date for conversion. Now as for what he experienced that led to his conversion, I would require several pages to explain that, but I think it is knowable, and this is reinforced by scientific papers which have come out in 2019. Other papers dating to 2015 further suggest that Paul’s experience in Damascus did not occur prior to 37 CE.

    • “eliadefollower”: We use real names on this site, whoever you are. The date of 33 CE for Jesus’ crucifixion is one of those favored, to be sure. But Paul’s “revelation” experience should probably be dated closer to 35 CE or so, to allow for the times that he mentions in his letters and for other factors such as King Aretas IV.

  5. Normally, if someone was resurrected, its effectiveness as proof would be that, years later, the resurrected one was still walking around. Furnishing definitive and longlasting evidence.

    But in the case of Jesus, it is said the resurrection lasted only a few days. And at that, some suggested that Jesus was merely implied, hidden, disguised, in a stranger. Or lived in spirit in his disciples. Offering an alternative to accounts of a literal bodily resurrection.

    So very soon, in either case, the physical evidence of a simple literal physical resurrection was removed. Leaving Paul and others with only “faith” but no IMMEDIATE material evidence.

    So was it an embrace of “faith” over physical evidence, that was the new element, that determined Paul’s chronological transformation?

    • Uh, on what basis do you make statements about “normally” what happens in resurrections??? The resurrection of Jesus in the NT texts is described as unique, not one of a series.
      And it wasn’t a resuscitation back to mortal life (“walking about”) but a catapult forward into eschatological life of the age to come. You really need to do some serious research before taking a stand on a subject!
      It was experiences of the risen and glorified Jesus that convinced followers that he had been raised and exalted to heavenly glory. Thereafter, the continuing effects of faith in him (experiences of the divine Spirit, etc.) served.

      • John Mitrosky permalink

        What you say about the resurrection as “unique” is not true according to Matthew 27:52-53 Larry.

      • No, John (again), those referred to in Matthew are described as raised to mortal life, not the eschatological life of Jesus.

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