27 These subjects will be addressed further in chapter 5 below.
28 Michael Martin, The Case Against Christianity(Philadelphia: Temple Univ. Press, 1991), chapter 2.
29 Ibid., pp. 59, 65, 85, 90–91, 95–96.
30 Ibid., p. 37. Martin concludes: “Wells’s argument against the historicity of Jesus is sound . . . .” (p. 67).
31 Ibid., p. 67.
32 Ibid., p. 59.
33 Ibid., p. 85; cf. pp. 65, 67.
1.The earliest epistles of Paul
Martin admits that from the genuine Pauline letters we do learn some claimed information about Jesus, especially concerning his death and resurrection. In spite of this, Paul does not seem to know many details about Jesus; we cannot even conclude that he knew that Jesus was a first century figure.^35
Here we are not interested in whether or not Paul was right, but what Paul thought about the chronology of Jesus. However, using only the Pauline epistles that Martin accepts, there is no shortage of data showing that Paul knew Jesus was an earlier contemporary. We have already seen that Jesus died and was raised, appearing to his followers just three days later (1 Cor. 15:3ff.). Those eyewitnesses who saw him afterwards included Peter, Jesus’ disciples, 500 believers, most of whom were still alive, James, and the apostles. Then Paul informs us that he was contemporary with these apostolic witnesses (15:9–11, 14–15).
If there is any doubt on the last point, Paul states that, right after his conversion, at least some of the apostles could still be found in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17). Three years later Paul visited there, and specifically tells us that he spent 15 days with the apostle Peter and also saw “James, the Lord’s brother” (1:18–19). Then, 14 years later, Paul went to Jerusalem again and met with Peter and James, as well as seeing John, the “pillars” of the church (2:1–10). Later, he met with Peter in Antioch (11– 14).
Plainly, Paul considered himself a contemporary of the other apostles^36 as well “the Lord’s brothers” (1 Cor. 9:5). Having seen the Lord was a prerequisite for the position of apostle (1 Cor. 9:1; cf. Acts 1:21–22).
Taking these declarations fairly and in a straightforward manner, there are several indications that Paul unquestionably thought of a direct chain from Jesus to the present. Jesus had died recently, as indicated by his resurrection appearances that began three days afterwards to hundreds of persons who were still alive in Paul’s day. Further, not only were Peter and James specifically included in Paul’s list of eyewitnesses, but along with John, they were singled out as apostolic leaders in the early church. James and others are even called the brothers of Jesus.
It is exceptionally difficult to see how anyone could know all this and still agree with Martin: “To be sure, Paul and other earlier epistle writers thought Jesus was crucified and was resurrected. But there is no good evidence that they believed that these events occurred at the beginning of the first century.”^37