Mark Goodacre has just posted an op-ed at Bible and Interpretation in which he explores our overall ignorance about the life of Jesus. I was thinking about this very issue yesterday while reading Schweitzer’s Paul and His Interpreters, making this note in response to Schweitzer highlighting the differences between Jesus and Paul:
“Schweitzer’s notion of the disconnect between Jesus and Paul is really hard to sustain historically because of the drastic impact Paul had on the composition of the gospels [at least, if Joel Marcus is correct about Mark, which I think he is]—there is no access to Jesus outside of Paul’s influence. One of the great ironies of early Christian history is that only through Paul is the historical Jesus accessible.”
The bottom line is that all too often in scholarship it is ignored that virtually all of our information about Jesus has come through a Pauline filter. We must rely on the Gospels (which were influenced by Paul) and upon Paul’s letters (written by a man who wasn’t a disciple and doesn’t tell us much about Jesus). This reality certainly doesn’t help those who, like Schweitzer, are trying to demonstrate clear distinctions between Paulinism and the teaching/ministry of Jesus. That’s not to say that we can know nothing about the historical Jesus, only that we must be careful not to neglect this element when we’re considering the question.