The Apostle Paul is the most prolific writer in the Christian New Testament. He is credited with with thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the canon. Unfortunately, only 7 of those ( I Thessalonians, Galatians, I Corinthians, Philippians, Philemon, II Corinthians, Romans) are considered authentic, the remainder are now placed in the category of pseudepigrapha , epistles written in Pauls name, by others. All of the letters considered to be authentic, were written sometime between 50-57 C.E., the remainder in question as to the actually dates is not specifically known, but it’s thought for instance that II Thessalonians may have been penned as late as 115 CE.
Paul never met Jesus, even though it’s possible, at least at a point, they may have been contemporaries. That may come as a surprise but it is a possibility. Paul’s earliest letter was to the Galatians, written approximately 50 C.E., and at the beginning of this letter (1:18-20) he says this:
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!)
So he had been preaching throughout the Roman world for three years at that time. Unless he happened to have been a teenager when he began, it’s not out of the question that at least a part of his life was contemporaneous with Jesus, the man. Of course, he never mentions anything of the sort, so it’s easily dismissed. What’s more important here are the verses just quoted: he met Peter, who he refers to as Cephas, an original disciple.
The question I always had was what was it Paul preached? Well, we have indications from his letters, but what’s interesting in those same letters, he gives no indication of knowing anything about Jesus. That’s why the above quotation is interesting to me. Having spent some time with Peter, I would think Paul would come away with an understanding of who this person Jesus was and he would preach just that. Of course, he may have, we have no idea. The churches he wrote to were established and he may have initially preached the story of Jesus to convert people to this new belief.
What scholars find interesting is that in none of these letters, the authentic ones or the ones written in his name is that he never refers to anything like that. The Jesus he preaches is someone that is in heaven, and at most he refers to receiving his gospel from that Jesus. It’s almost as if the Jesus he refers to never actually existed on earth. We know that the Jesus from the synoptics said that he was here for the Jews and not the gentiles (Matt 10:5-6, Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6, 10:1-12 ). Paul, a Jew, preached mainly to the gentiles. So the mission of Paul was not originally that of Jesus. What Jesus did paul then preach? He admonished believers in II Corinthians 11:4:
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Who is he referring to here? He tells us a moment later in verse 5:
I consider myself in no way inferior to those “super apostles”.
I wonder who he may be referring to? The original disciples, especially Peter and James whom he met with in Jerusalem? There seems to be some jealousy there, or maybe just competition. Why would Paul try to place himself above, or at least equal to, those that actually knew Jesus? Of course, decades, centuries of scholars have tried to explain the discord. There is this from Galatians 2:7-8.
… the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles)
Where does this commission come from? Well, it seems from that Heavenly Jesus, that Paul was always receiving instruction from. There’s no indication in the gospels that this was ever the intention of Jesus. Peter, the one Jesus referred to as the rock. that he would build his church upon (Matt. 16:18). is largely left in the shadows of Paul’s gospel. Although Paul preached Christ crucified, he doesn’t appear to know anything about the arrest, trial, actual crucifixion, or even the open tomb. Paul seems to be preaching his own version of a heavenly being that never walked the earth.