I am posting to take another shot at the “Historical Jesus” nonsense that has dominated academic programs of study. You know the university “Religious Studies” classes that teach Jesus as a myth-embellished street preacher instead of as the Right Hand of G-d. In this post I want to dispute against the anti-Christian notion that the initial Jesus movement did not consider Jesus to be divine, and that the idea of Jesus as G-d is something that developed later and came from sources in the surrounding Pagan culture.
Allow me to direct your attention to evidence found in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. There are several reasons for choosing to argue from Galatians. First, it has widespread acknowledgement as a genuine letter by Paul, even among anti-Christian academics.
Second, Galatians is dated very early. There is a broad consensus that this letter was dictated by Paul sometime in the period from AD 49 to AD 57. The most common dating is AD 51.
Note that even the late date for the composition of Galatians is less than 25 years after the Resurrection. We are talking about a letter from Paul to a group of Christians in Anatolia (central modern-day Turkey) that was composed during the lifetimes of the eyewitnesses who had known Jesus. There was no time for “generations” of Jesus-followers to incorporate a bunch of stuff from their Pagan surrounds.
Let’s read a little bit from Galatians. Here is the greeting at the beginning:
Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers[a] who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Note some things about how this opens. Paul introduces himself by saying he is an Apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” This presents his credential as an Apostle as from Jesus and G-d the Father working together; it assumes Jesus and G-d the Father working as a team. It notes that it was G-d the Father who raised Jesus from the dead. Paul wishes grace and peace “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” again presenting the resurrected Jesus and G-d the Father as a team.
Paul also includes a description of Jesus:
“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father….”
Paul does not explain to these Galatians that they should consider Jesus as Lord, nor does he explain how or why Jesus died for our sins and that he rose from death, nor does he explain that Jesus and G-d the Father are a team that work together. Paul does not explain this because it was what he had taught the Galatians when their congregations were founded.
Paul spends the first section of Galatians after this greeting by chiding the Galatians for adding stuff to the Gospel that they had been originally taught.
So when was that original Gospel taught to the Galatians?
The little congregations in the south of Galatia were founded during Paul’s “First Missionary Journey.” This trip was made by Paul along with Barnabas before the Council of Jerusalem, which happened in 47 or 48 AD. Paul and Barnabas preached in Iconium (modern Konya) in 46 AD. Paul returned to Iconium in 49 AD on his “Second Missionary Journey,” traveling this time with Silas. From Iconium they traveled north into Galatia.
They began their visits to each new region by going to the local synagogue to tell the Jews the Good News about Jesus the Messiah. They found Gentiles in each Synagogue, since there were many Gentiles who had become followers of the Jewish religion and had rejected their Pagan background.
There is no reason to suppose that Paul had changed his story between his first visit to Iconium in 46 AD and his return in 49 AD. In fact, it would be highly unlikely that his innovative religion would have staying power in that area if he had changed any of the basics. We can therefore be sure that the Gospel preached to the Galatians in Iconium and the area north of there was the same in 46 AD as in 49 AD.
So we are establishing that the Gospel included Jesus as a team with G-d the Father, performing their work together, with the resurrected Jesus the “Principal Agent” of G-d for the purpose “to deliver us from the present evil age,” and Jesus is to be worshipped along with G-d the Father, and them both considered to be parts of the One True G-d. Consider other aspects of the Gospel preached to the Galatians. From Chapter 2:
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. 17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul does not have to explain the Crucifixion and Resurrection story. He assumes that the Galatians have already accepted Jesus as the “Principal Agent” of G-d for both justification and eternal life. The basic idea of Jesus as one with G-d is intimately woven into everything Paul wrote to the Galatians. He elaborates on the Doctrine of Atonement and the Doctrine of Justification, but as filling in some details and making some connections between materials that had previously been taught. He is building on the previous teachings, rather than teaching something that is new.
Galatians gives a pretty robust discussion of the orthodox Christian Gospel of Jesus the Christ who is to be worshipped alongside G-d the Father.
The Gospel that Galatians first heard in 46 AD is thoroughly orthodox and is a robust Gospel. If anyone tries to tell you that Christian orthodoxy developed over generations, blow them off. This is only a very little more than a decade after the Resurrection; certainly less than fifteen years. These teachings emerged early, from the Jewish eyewitnesses of Jesus. At this time, the Jewish followers of Jesus were in firm control of the Jesus message. Gentile members of the little movement of “Followers of The Way” of Jesus would have had little influence on the doctrines taught by this group of Jews.
Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians shows us that Christian orthodoxy was fully formed and mature within fifteen years, or earlier, after the Resurrection. There is no room in the history of Christianity for Pagan influences.