Did the Apostle Paul Worship a Space Ghost?

March 23, 2014 | 13 comments

Some mythicists claim that Christianity began as an astrotheological religion. According to this theory, the first Christians worshipped Jesus in a way similar to the Egyptians and other ancient cultures who worshipped the sun and stars, knowing full well that he was never a man. Later, they placed him in time, interacting with historical figures, to boost the credibility of their movement and to set themselves apart from competing pagan religions.

To support this claim, some mythicists point to the apostle Paul, who they say knew nothing of a historical Jesus.

Skeptical New Testament scholar Robert Price argues that Paul’s epistles, written before the canonical Gospels, provide no evidence of a historical Jesus.  Others claim this supposed lack of evidence has to be “explained away” by Christian apologists. Former Anglican priest turned mythicist, Tom Harpur, writes:

 

What is absolutely striking about [the writings of Paul] is their virtual silence on the whole subject of a historical Jesus of Nazareth. There is no question that this is the datum that ultimately stares down the proponents of historicity. (Pagan Christ, pp. 166-67)

 

Paul’s letters are the earliest surviving Christian documents. 1 Thessalonians (the earliest letter we have from him) was written around A.D. 49, about twenty years after the death of Jesus. His authorship of the major epistles is not disputed by the majority of reputable scholars.

Contrary to Harpur’s assertion that proponents of historicity have very little evidence to base their claims on, Paul references the same main points about the life of Jesus that the Gospels and the writings of the early Church Fathers do: He was born of a woman, was crucified, and rose from the dead. Though Paul was not an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, he does describe meeting with the apostles Peter and James:

 

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (Peter) and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:18-19).

 

We can reasonably assert that Paul’s knowledge of the life, ministry, and death of Jesus was given to him by two important eyewitnesses. Certainly, if the Jesus of the early Christians was a solar deity and they were aware of this, then Paul should have been as well.  Instead we find him writing about Jesus as if he had indeed existed as a human.

In Galatians 4:4, Paul writes, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law…” This passage indicates that Paul clearly understood Jesus to be a real man born of a Jewish woman.  His intention was to stress the fact that Jesus shared in our human condition, and the reference to “the law” links him to Judaism. This alone is sufficient to establish the historicity of Christ, but the evidence doesn’t stop there.

Paul tells us that Christ was brought before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim. 6:13). If Pilate was also a mythological character, it is surprising that he is mentioned by non-Christian writers like Josephus and the Roman historian Tacitus. Of course, no one believes he was a mythological character. This mention places Jesus in a historical context.

Paul also makes reference to the Crucifixion throughout his epistles, and in 1 Corinthians he writes, “None of the rulers of this age understood [the wisdom of God]; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (2:8). This is a reference to the Jewish and Roman authorities who collaborated to execute Jesus.

Furthermore, Paul tells us that Jesus was indeed resurrected from the dead (Rom 1:4, 6:5, Phil 3:10, 1 Thess. 4:14-16). Some mythicists will respond by pointing to other supposed dying-and-rising pagan gods. They claim that Jesus, like these other gods, never existed in the material realm, and so a death and resurrection story is not evidence of historicity.  But the consensus of recent scholars in this area argues against the categorization (see Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East). The reason for this is that the other gods almost never return in a permanent sense, and rarely as the same deity. Jesus does both, and in a real historical context according to Paul.

It’s true that Paul does not give us many specific details about the life of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he was unaware of them, or that he thought Jesus was some kind of space ghost. His letters were written to specific churches as praise for right conduct and adherence to sound doctrine, or as correction to those who had strayed from the Faith. Since he was writing to people who were already Christian, he probably assumed they were aware of the details about Jesus and so he saw no reason to elaborate.

This is also the case with modern Church documents. For example, when the pope writes an encyclical to the Church, it’s not likely he would feel the need to explain the life of Jesus in every detail to an audience already familiar with the story. He may reference specific details to make a point (as Paul did), but encyclicals are not going to contain a complete retelling of the Gospel narrative. And it would be absurd to expect them to.

Paul does refer to enough details that we can say with certainty that he believed Jesus was a real man, born of a virgin, and crucified under Pontius Pilate.

If this topic interests you, check out Trent Horn’s latest DVD, Why Believe in Jesus?, available now from Catholic Answers Press.


Jon Sorensen earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-...

Why Believe In Jesus?: A Case for the Existence, Divinity and Resurrection of Christ
Jesus of Nazareth was the most famous man in history—and certainly the most controversial. Was he the Son of God? A political revolutionary? Just a wise teacher whose followers turned his memory into legend? Or maybe he didn’t exist at all… except as a fanciful mixture of ancient myths. With so many competing versions of Jesus to choose from, how can we know that traditional Christian teaching about him is true—in fact, that it is worthy of our faith? In Why Believe in Jesus?, apologist Trent Horn examines the historical, biblical, and logical evidence to build a compelling case for the reasonableness of belief in the Christian Jesus: that he was truly God incarnate in first-century Judea, put to death on a cross and risen on the third day.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Deacon Chuck Stevens - Brigden, Ontario

Sadly if one read Harpur's syndicated column in the mainstream media during the late 90's, early 2000's, you could see his already tenuous grasp on Christianity slipping away. I think, when speaking with mythicists who point to Harpur as a resource, I would suggest to them that their argument has already lost credibility...and then pray for them.

March 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm PST
#2  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

I agree. It saddens me when I read about Christians who are swayed by these kinds of arguments.

March 24, 2014 at 1:04 pm PST
#3  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

This is no suprise. Just look at all the ways Christianity has been distorted and twisted. Good thing Jesus promised us the gates of hell will not prevail. I firmly believe once the Holy Eucharist is rejected there is only chaos and confusion.

March 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm PST
#4  Chris Kennedy - Overland Park, Kansas

Thank you for describing why Paul wrote his letters, these reasons are critical to the discussion. But, unfortunately, they are generally ignored by the mythicists, much like they dismiss the gospels for not recording every minute detail of Jesus' life.

March 24, 2014 at 6:07 pm PST
#5  Bob Bowe - Chantilly, Virginia

Well written with excellent research. One problem, which is common, but still major. Jesus Christ is not a human "being. He is a Devine Being. "Being" denotes personhood. Christ was only one person and that person is Devine. If he were a human being he would be two persons: Devine and human. To believe he is a human being is to be guilty of Arianism, which has been proclaimed a heresy as early as 350 AD. The proposition concerning St. Paul in Sorenson's article is not changed by this correction.

March 25, 2014 at 9:48 am PST
#6  Eric Vanderburg - Yukon, Oklahoma

"To believe he is a human being is to be guilty of Arianism, which has been proclaimed a heresy as early as 350 AD"

Just to be clear, you're not denying Christ's human nature here, correct?

March 25, 2014 at 1:33 pm PST
#7  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hi Bob. I appreciate the suggestion. I'll try to be more precise in future posts.

March 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm PST
#8  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

By the way, the post has been updated. Thanks again.

March 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm PST
#9  Bob Bowe - Chantilly, Virginia

Eric, yes let me be clear, and thanks for asking me to be clear. I'm not denying Christ's human nature. He was fully human in every sense. What I'm saying is that he was a Devine person, a Devine Being, not a human being, yet fully human in every way. Yes it is a mystery. So is the Trinity: three persons, one God; three beings, not four, one human, three Devine. Obviously not a subject that can be fully explored in a Comment box. Jon did an excellent job talking about St. Paul and his worship of Jesus Christ, true God and true man not some other being, a "Space Ghost." That's what his article was about and I certainly didn't want to distract from that subject.

March 25, 2014 at 6:33 pm PST
#10  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

I am the person who prompted you to write "Every Objection Deserves an Answer" when I posted under another one of your mythicists posts, "Is it even worth it?" I must admit, reading the idiocy of such positions proposed by the mythicists in this article and I had the same initial reaction, but nevertheless, I'm glad you posted it and I certainly appreciate the need for an answer to everything, no matter how silly.

March 26, 2014 at 6:45 am PST
#11  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Hi AJ. This position has been showing up in a number of recent publications by "new atheists." For example, Dan barker of the Freedom From religion Foundation has an entire chapter of his book, Godless, devoted to "Jesus never existed" conspiracy theories. I do agree that the position is ridiculous, but to the untrained eye it acts as another brick in the wall that many atheists put up between themselves and God. By the way, i hope you are doing well. :)

March 26, 2014 at 8:43 am PST
#12  AJ Boggs - Buena Vista, Virginia

You've done a fine job of removing those bricks; I've cited your Horace-debunking articles numerous times in my own amateur apologetics. I also know we all appreciate it when you come into the comments section and talk to us :D I am doing well and I hope you are too.
AJ

March 26, 2014 at 5:22 pm PST
#13  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

I'm doing well, AJ. Thanks for asking. God bless!

March 27, 2014 at 7:55 am PST

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