Saturday, December 29, 2012

What Does Paul Mean by "Received": HJA (26)

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul writes
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,  and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
To the historicist, this passage demonstrates that Paul was simply passing along what he had learned from Jesus' original disciples.

Mythicists, on the other hand, say "Not so fast."  Paul doesn't say where he received the information in this passage.  Moreover, in Galatians 1:11-12, Paul denies that anyone other than God himself taught him the gospel:
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
So the mythicist argue that the "received" in 1 Corinthians 15:3 should be read as "received by revelation" rather than "received from earlier Christians" because that is how Paul said the gospel came to him in Galatians. 

One of the things that has kept me on the fence about a historical Jesus is that Paul never says that anything he knows about Jesus came from anyone who knew Jesus personally.  The only two sources of information Paul cites explicitly are direct revelation and scripture.  Nevertheless, I think it is going too far to say that Galatians 1:3 governs the interpretation of "received" in 1 Cor. 15:3.  It seems to me that there are several reasonable arguments for thinking that "received" in 1 Corinthians 15:3 should be read as "received from my predecessors in the faith" rather than "received by revelation."
  1. The former is how Paul uses "received" earlier in the same passage.  In 1 Corinthians 15:1, the word refers to the person-to-person transmission that occurred between Paul and the Corinthians.  If Paul intended the word to refer to a different type of transmission two sentences later, i.e., by divine revelation, we might reasonably expect him to make that clear

  2. When Paul wants to refer transmission by revelation, he knows how to do so as he did in 1 Corinthians 11:23  where he wrote "received from the Lord." 

  3. At least some of the events in 1 Corinthians 15 happened to people Paul knew personally.  All other things being equal, when someone tells such a story, the most likely explanation is that those people told others about the events and the information came either directly or indirectly from those people.  It is possible that Paul invented the stories or that they came to him in a dream, but I wouldn't think that would be our first guess.

  4. Before we read Paul's claim that he was taught nothing by men into 1 Cor. 15, we should want to establish that the information in 1 Corinthians 15 is the same information that Paul claims to have gotten by revelation in Galatians.  Unfortunately, Paul doesn't tell us in Galatians what exactly was included in the revelation.  He merely refers to "the gospel I preached."  Was it just the death and resurrection? Was it also the appearances?  Maybe it was only the theology of the death and resurrection and not the events themselves that were revealed.  When he says that no man taught him the gospel, does it mean that no man ever shared any of his experiences with Paul?  

  5. We should also want to establish any similarities or differences in the contexts of the two letters.  We are all familiar with political candidates who portray themselves as reactionaries when speaking to a gathering of the Tea Party and as moderates when speaking to independent voters.  If it suited his purposes, Paul might very well emphasize his independence from his predecessors on one occasion and emphasize his continuity on another.   In the case of Galatians, Paul's rhetoric was driven bya specific dispute he was having with the pillars in Jerusalem and he needed to show that his to authority to teach the gospel authority did not depend upon any man.   That dispute does not appear to be an issue in Corinth. 
None of these prove conclusively that Paul meant "received from my predecessors in the faith" rather than "received by revelation" in 1 Corinthians 15:3, but I think they may be sufficient to eliminate Galatians 1:11-12 as the kind of trump card that some mythicists try to make it.