Saul of Tarsus, now blind, being
 led into the city.

What Did Paul Know?        

                       © Copyright 2003

                               Joseph Francis Alward  



Evidence that Paul did not meet Jesus, and was unaware of most of the miracles associated with him, is presented in this letter written to a Christian acquaintance.





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“The...Pauline letters...are so completely silent concerning the events that were later recorded in the gospels as to suggest that these events were not known to Paul, who, however, could not have been ignorant of them if they had really occurred.

“These letters have no allusion to the parents of Jesus, let alone to the virgin birth. They never refer to a place of birth (for example, by calling him 'of Nazareth'). They give no indication of the time or place of his earthly existence. They do not refer to his trial before a Roman official, nor to Jerusalem as the place of execution. They mention neither John the Baptist, nor Judas, nor Peter's denial of his master. (They do, of course, mention Peter, but do not imply that he, any more than Paul himself, had known Jesus while he had been alive.)

“These letters also fail to mention any miracles Jesus is supposed to have worked, a particularly striking omission, since, according to the gospels, he worked so many...

“Another striking feature of Paul's letters is that one could never gather from them that Jesus had been an ethical teacher... on only one occasion does he appeal to the authority of Jesus to support an ethical teaching which the gospels also represent Jesus as having delivered.”--G.A. Wells,  The Historical Evidence for Jesus (pp. 22-23).



Paul was writing about Jesus twenty or more years before the synoptic authors' gospel stories were written. If Paul knew Jesus was

 born of a virgin,
 baptized by John
 called his "son" by the Lord
 transfigured on the mountain


 walked on water
 stilled storms
 converted water to wine
 fed nine thousand people on handfuls of bread
 cured the deaf and blind
 drove demons into a herd of pigs
 raised a man from the dead

and was

 betrayed by Judas
 denied by Peter
 abandoned by his disciples


 left an empty tomb behind for Mary to find,

then why in the world would Paul not have written down this information somewhere, if not in his letters to the churches and certain individuals, if he had known about them? Are these events not among the most astonishing for mankind since the beginning of time?

Apologists say that we should forgive Paul for not describing these events in his letters to individual churches and in some cases to individuals, because we should assume that they already knew about them. Even if that were true, what about the rest of the world? What about those people in Israel who had not yet heard the about the many wondrous events  listed above? Rather than rely on the propagation of what you believe are the oral stories of the many events described above, don't you think that Paul would have written other letters, or even his own "gospels", for those people, and for you and me, if he had really known about these events, if indeed they had even occurred? Don't you think he would want to put down in more permanent form--on paper--a record of the most remarkable events since the dawn of time? Why would he let mankind wait twenty years for Mark, Matthew, and Luke to do this?

A five-round debate on the silence of Paul was conducted on the between me and the pseudonymous J P Holding on the Theology Web.   In defending against claims that Paul would have wished to put the miracle stories in writing if he had known about them, Holding asserts that the oral propagation of stories in that time was a highly structured, well –disciplined art which ensured that accuracy was maintained, and thus there was no need for a written record.  I will let readers consult the debate on the Theology Web if they're interested in seeing what my response there was.  I would, however, like to add one more thing to support my argument.  I forget who wrote the words below.

In those times, as now, it is generally expected that stories which propagate only orally will be changed to suit the needs of the story-teller's audience, as well as to further the aims and agenda of the story-teller.  Wherever and whenever verbal accuracy was highly valued and expected, it was within the context of the existence and reliance upon the ultimate authority—the written text.  Thus, without the written proof-text, orally transmitted stories were assumed to be unreliable.  


Note added March 25, 2004:

I'm as firm a believer as anyone that Paul didn't know about the historical
Jesus, and therefore that the gospel stories were not extant in the time of
Paul, but would have been if they were true. However, the true-believer has a
comparatively easy way to explain why Paul made so few references to the
historical Jesus, in my opinion. They will say that the people of that time were
steeped in the gospel stories--they were stories deeply ingrained in the minds of
everyone. Thus, Paul may have focused on comparatively minor issues relating
to Jesus and Christianity, knowing that he could take for granted that his
listeners and readers already were well familiar with the Jesus stories. It might
have been then as it was in discussing the Lincoln assassination to an
audience in 1885; twenty years after the fact, no one would need to be reminded that
Lincoln was president, led the Union Army to victory in a great war, or even
indeed that that was a great war, and was assassinated by an actor. Everyone
already knew those important facts backward and forward, and so the speaker
might concentrate on more mundane, less important issues. That's how it might
have been, they will say, and that argument is not as easy to counter as
skeptics would like to believe.

Also, perhaps Paul DID write and speak at great length about the historical
Jesus, but those speeches and writings were lost.