I recently listened to an interesting set of talks by Gary Habermas, Robert Price, Mike Licona and Richard Spencer. You can find it here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. This debate on “Infidel” radio was supposed to be on the resurrection. The conversation did not quite go that way. As most scholars do, Habermas and Price started with 1 Corinthians 15. What threw a curve ball was Robert Price’s claim that we have very little authentic Pauline material. Now Price is known as one of the few scholars that suggest Jesus of Nazareth never existed, but I had no idea that he was so skeptical of Paul’s letters. Price claims that there may be a few authentic sentences here and there but most of it was created and compiled by the early church and therefore does not contain much, if any early witness. Price admits that he is way out there on this one and that very few scholars, even in the liberal camp, would agree with him.
The focus of the discussion in the debate is a comparison between Galatians and 1 Corinthians 15 and the question of where Paul’s Gospel came from. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explains the content of his Gospel and reminds them that he passed on what he also received (v. 3). He then goes on to recite what seems to be an early Christian creed or hymn regarding the early witnesses to the resurrection (vv. 3-7). Obviously he received this from someone in the early church. The problem for Price is that in Galatians 1:12, Paul explains that his Gospel was not received from any human source but came through divine revelation. Price sees this as evidence of Paul’s letters as being a hopeless contradiction that point to a late compilation and creation put under the name of Paul. Habermas and Licona attempted to point out Galatians 2:1-10 where Paul admits going to Jerusalem and speaking with Peter (Cephas), John and James. Price sees this as a futile attempt to reconcile contradictions.
As far as I can see, Robert Price is doing his best to deconstruct all the biblical evidence we have that witnesses to the life and deeds of Jesus. Jesus could not have done the things people say he did, so the Gospels must be so untrustworthy that perhaps Jesus never existed. Even critical scholars have accepted Paul’s letters as trustworthy sources about early Christianity. But since Price already knows that this stuff is not true, there must be some problem with Paul. It is just a matter of time for the evidence to catch up with the “true” conclusions already reached.
The plain sense answer to Price’s problem is that the basic content of the Gospel was revealed to Paul by Jesus at his conversion. But creeds, hymns, lists of witnesses and details about the life of the historical Jesus were likely passed on to Paul at Jerusalem.
This idea that because an author’s writings are confusing that the letters must be patchworks of different authors and editors is nonsensical. Many modern authors write different articles and books to different audiences and different situations. When you randomly take sentences from different writings from the same author, it is likely that you will encounter some difficulty and perhaps even a seeming contradiction. Only when the big picture of the author’s worldview, the context (literary and historical) of the writing and the possibility of development within the author’s thoughts is taken into account that things begin to make sense.
All in all, it was an interesting debate and worth listening to. I did appreciate the charity that Price showed to his opponents at the end of the debate. Whether we agree or disagree with Price, we need to listen to him and to respond with a reasonable answer to his questions.