Christian Origins: Afterword

The origins of Christianity are inseparably linked to the Jewishness of Jesus and his relationship to the Jews of his time. Unless the picture is framed in this way, Christian origins are opaque. Dr. Amy-Jill Levine rightly points out Jesus was a lifelong observant Jew who didn’t want to abolish the law, but make it more strict. She gives Jesus’ example of how you are guilty of adultery merely for lusting in your heart. The law thus increased one’s guilt to a greater degree than if someone was just acting badly without knowing the prohibition.

The conspicuous theme across the gospels is the guilt of the Jews in the death of Jesus. The Jewish high council conspired against him, the crowd turned on him, and his disciples abandoned him. The idea was that God’s mandates prevented the Jewish leadership from killing Jesus (as the gospel of John points out), but the Jews tricked Pilate into doing it. This was a deliberate transgressing of God’s law.

Paul’s entire argument only makes sense in this context. The plan of rescuing humanity from the influence of Satan was that God gave the law to the Jews because he knew they would transgress the law and so the law was a vehicle for man to become sinful beyond measure. I have argued this at length in my postings and library articles here. It was once man realized how sinful he had become contributing to the wrongful death of God’s specially chosen one Jesus that the law written on man’s hearts would be awakened and be a catalyst for repentance. This is analogously behind the confession of the soldier at the cross in Mark and Luke. In this way, for instance, when Paul and Matthew say the Jews are responsible for Jesus’ death, this isn’t antisemitism, but that the Jews have the God chosen responsibility of recognizing their sin and overcoming it. It is only on the assumption that the Jews were particularly responsible for Jesus’ death that the entire argument in the New Testament maintains its logic. It was the burden of being God’s chosen people that the Jews would forever bear the memory and responsibility for Jesus’ wrongful death. But, it was in this that a mirror would be held up to them and they could begin to see their depravity and repent. In this regard, as I quoted last time, it is an authentic verse with no manuscript evidence speaking against it when Paul says:

  • “14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).”

And, it’s the identical sentiment we find in Matthew:

  • So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Greek: Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ’ ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν) (Matthew 27:24-25)

If we rip Jesus out of his Jewish context we are left with a shell of a New Testament that makes little sense of the logic of the text, such as we see with the Christ Myth Theory (the idea that Jesus was never on earth but was killed in outer space by sky demons, which has little support among scholars but still maintains some popularity on the internet) or Penal Substitution Atonement theology.

Of course, Carrier needs to go into intellectual contortions to argue Paul never actually wrote 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, because if Paul is saying the Jews killed Jesus then he obviously thought Jesus existed on earth. But this is hardly credible because the whole point of the New Testament is the irony that God’s specially chosen people the Jews wrongfully killed God’s specially chosen and favored prophet, and so the overwhelming majority of scholars claim this passage is authentic:

List of scholars who hold 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 as authentic and use it in their research (or argue for its authenticity):

  • David Luckensmeyer, The Eschatology of First Thessalonians (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH & Co., 2009), pp. 115-171
    Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? (New York: HarperOne, 2013), p. 124
    Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), pp. 212-214
    Jeffrey Lamp, “Is Paul Anti-Semitic? Testament of Levi 6 and the Interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16,” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 65.3 (2003), pp. 408-427
    J. Weatherly, “The Authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16: Additional Evidence,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 42 (1991), pp. 79-98
    John C. Hurd, “Paul ahead of his Time: 1 Thess. 2:13-16,” in Peter Richardson (ed), Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity. I. Paul and the Gospels (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986), p. 29f
    Todd Still, Conflict at Thessalonica (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), pp. 32-35
    Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1998), p. 440
    C. Schlueter, Filling up the Measure: Polemical Hyperbole in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994)
    Gerd Lüdemann, “Paul as a Witness to the Historical Jesus,” in R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (Amherst: Prometheus, 2010), p. 198
    R. H. Bell, The Irrevocable Call of God: An Inquiry into Paul’s Theology of Israel (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), pp. 56-84
    Maurice Casey, Jesus: Argument and Evidence or Mythicist Myth (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), pp. 182-184
    Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1981), p. 156
    Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Academic, 2010), pp. 232-233n135
    Craig S. Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), pp. 224, 515n19
    L. Wade Stevens, “The Influence of Sacred Tradition in 1 Thessalonians,” PhD diss. (New Orleans: New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2018), pp. 85-90
    Frank Thielman, “Paul’s View of Israel’s Misstep in Rom 9.32-3: Its Origin and Meaning,” New Testament Studies 64.3 (2018), pp. 362-377
    Andy Johnson, 1 and 2 Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), which notes that this is the standard of almost all English language commentaries.
    Darrell Bock, “A Test Case,” in Darrell Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski (eds), Jesus, Skepticism & the Problem of History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2019), p. 208
    Craig S. Keener, “Acts: History or Fiction?” in the above volume, pp. 333, 337
    Jason David BeDuhn, The First New Testament (Salem: Polebridge Press, 2013), p. 251 shows it was in the Marcionite canon
    Florence M. Gillman, Mary Ann Beavis, HyeRan Kim-Cragg, 1-2 Thessalonians, Wisdom Commentary 52 (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2016), 53-56
  • Rob van Houwelingen, “‘They Displease God and are Hostile to Everyone’ – Antisemitism in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16?” 2 Sárospataki Füzetek 22 (2018): 115-129
    Matthew Jensen, “The (In)authenticity of 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16: A Review of Arguments,” Currents in Biblical Research 18 (2019): 59-79