First, who is going to assure us that the Epistles of Paul are themselves genuine? It is foolish of believers to resent these perpetual questions. Nothing was thought in those days of putting a respected name on your essay or epistle. Early Christian literature includes a number of spurious Epistles and Gospels. And, since Paul's style is so characteristic, the ordinary apparatus of literary criticism enables us to say that some of the Epistles which bear his name were not written by him. They have not the same style and ideas.
This does not matter so very much for my purpose, but I will take those Epistles of which Professor Drews admits the genuineness. He says that in these Paul never refers to Jesus as a human being: that his Jesus is a deity only, whom later Christians supposed to have lived on earth at one time: that the apparent references to earthly experiences are really quotations of the things attributed to the Messiah in the prophets.
It seems to me that the whole argument of Professor Drews, Professor Smith, and others breaks down before one statement which runs from end to end of Paul's Epistles: the emphatic statement that Christ died on a cross and rose from the dead, and that this is the very basis of faith in him. It is little use recalling that Osiris or Tammuz rose from the dead. Ignorant Egyptians could believe that a god, as such, had a body, which could be killed. To a man like Paul such an idea would seem monstrous. He distinguishes quite clearly between God and Jesus. God, a purely spiritual being, takes human shape in Jesus, and sheds his blood on a cross, is buried, and then, in human shape, comes to life again. I do not see how anybody not obsessed by a theory can fail to recognize that, less than ten years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, Paul fully accepted that part of his story. "Being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." With infinite variations of expression, that formula is found in every Epistle, and it is Paul’s fundamental belief about Jesus.
Now this single statement carries us a very long way. No one has ever suggested that Paul had any doubt about the divinity of Jesus. it would follow, though Paul merely says that Jesus was "born of a woman," that he accepted some sort of miraculous story about the actual birth and childhood of this God in human shape. He refers repeatedly, in all Epistles, to Cephas or Peter and other Jews who boasted of some superior mission to his, because they had seen and known the Lord. He represents that Jesus preached and taught in Judea. In one place (I Cor. ix 14) he quotes as a saying of the Lord something ("They which preach the gospel should live by the gospel") which Matthew (x 10) and Luke (x 7) give, in other words, as the actual teaching of Jesus. He says nothing plainly about healing miracles; but is it likely that Paul believed Jesus to be God himself in human form and did not credit him with signs and wonders as he went about Judea? Finally, there is a passage (I Tim. vi 13) in which he speaks of his trial before Pontius Pilate: there are a hundred passages in which he says that Jesus was crucified, and by the Jews (I Thess. ii 15): and there are a thousand references to his physical resurrection.
We may put aside as spurious or interpolated such isolated statements as that the Christian supper is founded upon the actual last supper of Christ (I Cor. x 16 and xi 23-26): though no one will doubt that there was such a supper among the earliest Christians. We may similarly set aside the isolated references to Pontius Pilate, to Peter's claim to have seen Jesus after the resurrection, and to the ascension (Eph. iv 10). But there remains one unshakable story about Jesus which is found in every single Epistle. I run over them and for the convenience of the reader indicate these passages, one or more in every Epistle: Rom. i 3-4, iv 24, v and vi in full, etc.; I Cor. x 16, xi 23-6, xv, etc.; II Cor. iv 10; Gal. i 4, iv 4, vi 14; Eph. i 7, 20, etc.; Philipp. ii 8; Coloss. i 20, 22, etc.; I Thess. i 10, ii 15; I Tim. vi 13; II Tim. i 10, ii 18, etc.; Titus iii 4-6; Hebr. i 2-3, ii 9, ix 14, etc.
It is, therefore, no use (from our present point of view) arguing that this or that Epistle is not genuine. Unless we follow the eccentric opinion of Van Manen, and say that they are all spurious, Paul bears definite witness to Jesus. He lived on earth, in Judea, for at least two or three decades; because he was "born of a woman," yet lived to be a teacher. He was put to death on a cross by the Jews; and it was an article of faith with his followers that he rose from the dead. Just as consistently, from end to end, Paul repeats the assurance of Jesus that the end of the world is at hand, and the Lord will judge the living and the dead.
Farther, the Epistles uniformly and entirely depict the early Christian world in a manner which must interest us. Paul's great period of activity was from about 45 to 65 A.D. Let us say that the Epistles were mainly written between 50 and 60 A.D. There were then groups of believers in Jesus, on the same lines as Paul, in every large center from Jerusalem to Rome. Many of them were old enough to have lost their first fervor, and he describes them as much given to fornication. His persistence and emphasis also indicate that there is some reluctance to believe in the resurrection, which is, he says, "foolishness to the Greeks" -- thus clearly showing that he means a physical resurrection. The little "churches" or communities are full of dissensions, but they are not on Gnostic lines. They are about the Jewish law, the way in which Christ saves from sin, the resurrection, and the question of authority. There is repeated reference to a group of men, chiefly Cephas, who are described as the living companions and appointed apostles of Jesus. Their center is Jerusalem. They are intensely Jewish and have many a fiery conflict with Paul.
The witness of Paul is, then, that from about 40 A.D. to 60 A.D. there were, scattered over the Greco-Roman world, small groups of followers of Christ, and they were visited occasionally by Jews who had, they claimed, known Jesus in the flesh and received instruction from him. They all believed that he was the Son of God, who had assumed a human form and died on a cross to atone for the sins of men. This atonement by blood was of the very essence of their faith. It was the common idea of the time in the east that bloody sacrifice was the best atonement for sin, and it was a magnificent idea to some of these mystic Orientals that God himself should take human form and become a human sacrifice. To work out that belief they had to give God two aspects (which later theology would call "persons"), Father and Son; but Jewish religion had already plenty of references to Sons of God, and Greek mysticism also spoke of a Logos of God.
We will see later what this witness of Paul proves -- if it proves anything. For the moment it is enough to establish that Paul does believe in the human historicity of Christ. He never ceases to repeat that Jesus was a teacher in Judea, who died on the cross and rose from the dead. The condescension of God in taking human form, the shedding of real human blood in the ignominious punishment of the cross, are the quintessence of his gospel. The Jesus of Paul was a divine human person, who was put to death at Jerusalem somewhere about 30 A.D.
"Did Jesus Ever Live?"
The Myth of the Resurrection and Other Essays