Passed On What I Received

Did Paul receive a creed from another, or was it something else? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The point has been argued that when Paul says he passed on what he received in 1 Cor. 15, that that is the language that is used in Galatians 1 and Galatians 1 refers to a divine revelation. This leads us to the conclusion that Paul is not passing a creed that he has received, but sharing a revelation he has had of a divine and heavenly Jesus that later got turned into an earthly one.

Yes. That really is what is being argued.

So what are we to make of such a claim? Well the word for received is the same in Galatians 1:9 as it is in 1 Cor. 15, and both of them are talking about the gospel, but there are marked differences and that is where we need to look. When comparing two things, it is most important to see how they are different.

In 1 Cor. 15, Paul says he passed on what he received, and the information about passing on puts this in the area of oral tradition. He got it from someone else. Scholarship agrees across the board that this information is not original with Paul. This was instead an early creedal Christian statement. The latest you’ll usually see this dated is five years afterwards. Even the Jesus Seminar places it early.

There is no doubt that this is a creed as well. It was formulated for easy memorization and contains a number of words in it that are non-Pauline and as the experts in the language tell me, is written in a very rhythmic fashion to aid in memorization.

What is going on instead in Galatians 1? Paul is talking about the confirmation of the gospel. No doubt, he had some content of it already. He knew the belief that he was persecuting! He just didn’t believe it! Let’s look at some of the language he uses.

1:12 “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. ”

Paul is saying that his gospel is from Christ Himself and he received it by a revelation. Does this mean He received all the content? No. He knew what was being said in his life of persecution prior. What he instead received was confirmation of the gospel.

1:15-17 “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.”

Consider the language of “set apart before I was born.” Does that sound familiar? Consider this other passage from the OT.

““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.””

That’s Jeremiah 1:5. Paul is finding himself in the tradition of Jeremiah as a prophet to the nations in a far greater sense as he goes into Gentile territory. His divine commission was also an act of God. Why do this? He’s setting up authority. He is showing his authority is equal to that of the other apostles. He’s also showing he is not dependent on them, which is going to be important for when he challenges Peter. He’s not a student publicly admonishing his teacher. That would be disgraceful. He’s an apostle dealing with someone who is on the same level as he is. After all, the Judaizers could say “We are doing what is proper! Look at what Peter did!” Paul says he has the right to speak due to his divine commission. As Christ called Peter, so he also called Paul.

Keep in mind also that Paul is quite clear on what is revelation and what is not. He does not simply make a claim and then say it is revelation. In 1 Cor. 7 Paul says in regard to a question that “The Lord, not I, says” meaning that there is a clear answer in the Jesus tradition. Yet later he says “I, not the Lord, say” meaning that this isn’t explicitly covered in the Jesus tradition, but Paul is going to give his answer to it and he thinks he has the wisdom as an apostle to answer it.

What this means for us is that Paul is very careful with his words. He wants to make clear what has its origins in Jesus and what doesn’t. His words in Galatians indicate that the apostles gave him the right hand of fellowship. To deny Jesus ever even lived would mean that Paul was persecuting a group that showed up suddenly with no historical basis, and just as quickly changed his mind and joined that group. This would mean that all of these Jews suddenly thought it would be a good idea to abandon their ancient heritage given by YHWH Himself and take up another belief system and just as Paul got caught up in this delusion, he happened to meet other apostles who had done so at the same time, and oh yes, there was also a creedal statement with eyewitnesses mentioned that shows up soon after and no one takes the time to call into question before abandoning their ancient traditions.

You are free to take a position that the apostles were wrong on the resurrection. You are free to say that some information about Jesus is legendary. You are free to say that the accounts are unreliable. Let’s just stop the nonsensical idea however that while the ancients might have been gullible, and I would contend they weren’t, that they were so idiotically gullible to make such quick changes that would put their entire lives on the line. To change a quote from Monday’s blog “It’s wrong to say Jesus never rose from the dead. It’s very wrong to say He never existed.”

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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One Response to “Passed On What I Received”

  1. Tatzia Langlo Says:

    I don’t get what the fuss is about. Paul was speaking to the Corinthians then he was speaking to the Galatians. So what if he used slightly different words to say the same thing in different ways – possibly to accommodate different audiences. And although today we may have become more detached from the transcendent voice of the holy spirit, in Paul’s time, especially based on his experience, whether he received it from a direct human voice or through divine revelation does not seem to make a significant difference.

    This discussion seems to reveal a significant practice often overlooked, involving the importance of our ability and responsibility to listen to each other to acknowledge the gifts of God through our lives.

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