Bible Textual Integrity

The Influ­ence of the Pauline Epis­tles Upon The Gospels of The New Testament

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Chris­tians believe that Paul of Tar­sus was the Apos­tle” of Jesus(P), whom he met in a vision on his jour­ney to Dam­as­cus. Paul is also claimed to be the author of the Epis­tles to the Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthi­ans, Gala­tians, Eph­esians, Philip­pi­ans, Colos­sians, 1 and 2 Thes­sa­lo­ni­ans, 1 and 2 Tim­o­thy, Titus, Phile­mon and Hebrews. It is there­fore strange that this self-con­fessed Apos­tle’ of Jesus Christ fails to pay more atten­tion to the words of Jesus(P) him­self in his epistles :

All the evi­dence indi­cates that the words of Jesus were author­i­ta­tive in the Church from the first, and this makes it the more remark­able that such scanty atten­tion is paid to the words or works of Jesus in the ear­li­est Chris­t­ian writ­ings, Paul’s let­ters, the lat­er Epis­tles, Hebrews, Rev­e­la­tion, and even Acts have lit­tle to report about them.…Papias (ca. AD 130), the first per­son to actu­al­ly name a writ­ten gospel, illus­trates the point. Even though he defends Mark’s gospel (Euseb. Hist. III.xxxix.15 – 16), and had him­self append­ed a col­lec­tion of Jesus tra­di­tion to his Inter­pre­ta­tion of the Ora­cles of the Lord” (Euseb. Hist. III.xxxix.2 – 3), his own clear pref­er­ence was for the oral tra­di­tion con­cern­ing Jesus, and the glimpses that Euse­bius pro­vides of Papias’ Jesus tra­di­tion give no hint of his depen­dence on Mark. Nei­ther do the more fre­quent cita­tions of Jesus in the apos­tolic fathers, large­ly syn­op­tic” in char­ac­ter, show much depen­dence on our writ­ten gospels.The Inter­preter’s Dic­tio­nary of the Bible, Sup­ple­men­tary Vol­ume, p. 137

To what extent has the Pauline let­ters shaped the selec­tion of the gospels of the New Tes­ta­ment as canon today ? This arti­cle would exam­ine the evi­dence and present its con­clu­sions on the mat­ter, insha’allah.

The Pauline Epis­tles and Their Influ­ence Over the Selec­tion of Gospels

It is acknowl­edged that the cur­rent gospels of the New Tes­ta­ment, which con­tain the words of Jesus, were writ­ten after the Pauline epis­tles. This state­ment is con­firmed by Prof. Bran­don, when he informs us that

The ear­li­est Chris­t­ian writ­ings that have been pre­served for us are the let­ters of the apos­tle Paul.S. G. F. Bran­don, Reli­gions in Ancient His­to­ry, p. 228

All but the gospels accept­able to the Pauline faith were sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly destroyed or re-writ­ten. In fact, the gospels were not even in exis­tence pri­or to the Pauline writ­ings. Rev. Charles Ander­son Scott tells us that :

It is high­ly prob­a­ble that not one of the Syn­op­tic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) was in exis­tence in the form which we have it, pri­or to the death of Paul. And were the doc­u­ments to be tak­en in strict order of chronol­o­gy, the Pauline Epis­tles would come before the syn­op­tic Gospels.Rev. Charles Ander­son Scott, His­to­ry of Chris­tian­i­ty in the Light of Mod­ern Knowl­edge, p. 338

Hyam Mac­co­by makes an inter­est­ing obser­va­tion regard­ing the influ­ence of Paul as follows :

We should remem­ber that the New Tes­ta­ment, as we have it, is much more dom­i­nat­ed by Paul than appears at first sight. As we read it, we come across the Four Gospels, of which Jesus is the hero, and do not encounter Paul as a char­ac­ter until we embark on the post-Jesus nar­ra­tive of Acts. Then we final­ly come into con­tact with Paul him­self, in his let­ters. But this impres­sion is mis­lead­ing, for the ear­li­est writ­ings in the New Tes­ta­ment are actu­al­ly Paul’s let­ters, which were writ­ten about AD 50 – 60, while the Gospels were not writ­ten until the peri­od AD 70 – 110. This means that the the­o­ries of Paul were already before the writ­ers of the Gospels and col­ored their inter­pre­ta­tions of Jesus’ activ­i­ties. Paul is, in a sense, present from the very first word of the New Tes­ta­ment. This is of course, not the whole sto­ry, for the Gospels are based on tra­di­tions and even writ­ten sources which go back to a time before the impact of Paul, and these ear­ly tra­di­tions and sources are not entire­ly oblit­er­at­ed in the final ver­sion and give valu­able indi­ca­tions of what the sto­ry was like before Paulin­ist edi­tors pulled it into final shape. How­ev­er, the dom­i­nant out­look and shap­ing per­spec­tive of the Gospels is that of Paul, for the sim­ple rea­son that it was the Paulin­ist view of what Jesus’ sojourn on Earth had been about that was tri­umphant in the Church as it devel­oped in his­to­ry. Rival inter­pre­ta­tions, which at one time had been ortho­dox, opposed to Paul’s very indi­vid­ual views, now became hereti­cal and were crowd­ed out of the final ver­sion of the writ­ings adopt­ed by the Pauline Church as the inspired canon of the New Tes­ta­ment.Hyam Mac­co­by, The Myth­mak­er : Paul and the Inven­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty, (Wei­den­feld and Nicol­son, Lon­don, 1986), p. 4

There is no doubt that the influ­ence of Paul is much more dom­i­nant than the influ­ence of Jesus (P) him­self in the New Tes­ta­ment. Schol­ars have known and rec­og­nized the influ­ence Paul exerts over the New Tes­ta­ment, to the extent that Paul even declares that he has a dif­fer­ent gospel than Romans 2:16

Dat­ing for The Author­ship of The New Testament

The pop­u­lar­ly accept­ed dates for the author­ship of the cur­rent books of the Bible are approx­i­mate­ly as follows :

    Approx. AD Event /​Doc­u­ment
    30 Cru­ci­fix­ion (Ascen­sion) of Jesus
    50 First Epis­tle of Paul
    62 Last Epis­tle of Paul
    65 – 70 Mark’s Gospel
    70 Epis­tle to Hebrews (The Epis­tle to the Hebrews is not list­ed in the 6th cen­tu­ry list of the man­u­scripts called Codex Claromon. This leads to the sus­pi­cion that it could have been writ­ten at a lat­er date)
    80 Luke’s Gospel
    85 – 90 Matthew’s Gospel
    90 Acts
    90 – 100 John’s Gospel and First Epistle
    95 – 100 Revelation
    100 I & II Tim­o­thy and TitusThe Inter­preter’s Dic­tio­nary of the Bible, Sup­ple­men­tary Volume

Uncer­tain­ty about James I & II, Peter, John and Jude does not allow his­to­ri­ans to esti­mate their ori­gin datesIrene Allen, The Ear­ly Church And The New Tes­ta­ment, 1953. Note that the Epis­tles are dat­ed ear­li­er than even the ear­li­est gospel, Mark”. Thus we begin to see the degree to which the cur­rent reli­gion of Chris­tian­i­ty” is based more on the teach­ings and writ­ings of Paul than any­thing else. The gospels which are pop­u­lar­ly believed to have been writ­ten first were in actu­al­i­ty writ­ten long after the writ­ings of Paul. The more Chris­t­ian schol­ars study the text of the Bible, the more it becomes painful­ly appar­ent that what is pop­u­lar­ly referred to today as Chris­tian­i­ty” should more appro­pri­ate­ly be called St. Paulism”.

Were The Epis­tles Attrib­uted to Paul Real­ly Authored By Him ?

Even the attri­bu­tion of author­ship of the epis­tles to Paul him­self is doubt­ful. For exam­ple, let us take a look at the Epis­tle to the Hebrews. This Epis­tle, once attrib­uted to Paul, is now gen­er­al­ly accept­ed to have not been writ­ten by him. We read that

The Let­ter to the Hebrews, at one time ascribed to Paul, is now gen­er­al­ly accept­ed to be by some unknown Chris­t­ian of the 1st cen­tu­ry. More like a ser­mon than a let­ter, it is one of the best and most care­ful­ly con­struct­ed com­po­si­tions in the New Tes­ta­ment. Addressed orig­i­nal­ly to Chris­tians out of Jew­ish back­grounds, the book makes exten­sive use of Old Tes­ta­ment mate­r­i­al to demon­strate that the min­istry of Jesus Christ was the ful­fill­ment of the Old Covenant.Excerpt­ed from Comp­ton’s Inter­ac­tive Ency­clo­pe­dia, copy­right — 1994, 1995 Comp­ton’s New­Me­dia, Inc.

The edi­tors of the KJV, in their Intro­duc­tion to the Epis­tle to the Hebrews, wrote that :

The author of the Book of Hebrews is unknown. Mar­tin Luther sug­gest­ed that Apol­los was the author…Tertullian said that Hebrews was a let­ter of Barnabas…Adolf Har­nack and J. Ren­del Har­ris spec­u­lat­ed that it was writ­ten by Priscil­la (or Prisca). William Ram­sey sug­gest­ed that it was done by Philip. How­ev­er, the tra­di­tion­al posi­tion is that the Apos­tle Paul wrote Hebrews…Eusebius believed that Paul wrote it, but Ori­gen was not pos­i­tive of Pauline author­ship.KJV, New Revised and Updat­ed 6th, the Hebrew/​Greek Key Study, Red Let­ter Edition

Even the books of Acts was writ­ten to ful­fill a cer­tain pur­pose. As Hyam Mac­co­by observes :

As we have seen, the pur­pos­es of the book of Acts is to min­i­mize the con­flict between Paul and the lead­ers of the Jerusalem Church, James and Peter. Peter and Paul, in lat­er Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion, became twin saints, broth­ers in faith, and the idea that they were his­tor­i­cal­ly bit­ter oppo­nents stand­ing for irrec­on­cil­able reli­gious stand­points would have been repu­di­at­ed with hor­ror. The work of the author of Acts was well done ; he res­cued Chris­tian­i­ty from the impu­ta­tion of being the indi­vid­ual cre­ation of Paul, and instead gave it a respectable pedi­gree, as a doc­trine with the author­i­ty of the so-called Jerusalem Church, con­ceived as con­tin­u­ous in spir­it with the Pauline Gen­tile Church of Rome. Yet, for all his efforts, the truth of the mat­ter is not hard to recov­er, if we exam­ine the New Tes­ta­ment evi­dence with an eye to tell-tale incon­sis­ten­cies and con­fu­sions, rather than with the deter­mi­na­tion to gloss over and har­mo­nize all dif­fi­cul­ties in the inter­ests of an ortho­dox inter­pre­ta­tion.Hyam Mac­co­by, op. cit., p. 139


We have seen that the Pauline Epis­tles were writ­ten before the gospels of the New Tes­ta­ment and there­fore exerts an influ­ence over the selec­tion of the gospels of the New Tes­ta­ment in our hands today. Jesus(P) him­self had no idea of what Paul had done to his teach­ings and would have been amazed and shocked at the role assigned him by Paul as a suf­fer­ing deity. More­over, not all the epis­tles attrib­uted to Paul were real­ly writ­ten by him, and some were even writ­ten to ful­fill a cer­tain pur­pose. It is this rea­son which makes the epis­tles unac­cept­able to be divine­ly inspired’, as it is clear they are the prod­uct of men. The Influence of the Pauline Epistles Upon The Gospels of The New Testament 27Endmark

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