Category Archives: Bible

Hebrews 3, Proving the Minor, and the Divinity of Christ

I was recently reading the Letter to the Hebrews and came upon an interesting passage:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end (Hebrews 3:1-6, NASB).

The logic of the passage jumped out at me, as I have been keen to find passages that affirm the divinity of Christ in light of my interactions with Biblical Unitarians.  This passage is concerned with demonstrating that Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses.  Thomas Aquinas dissects the passage in the following manner:

161. – But the Apostle’s reason is that more glory is due Him Who built the house, than to him that dwells in it. But Christ built the house: ‘You have made the morning light and the sun’ (Ps. 73:16); ‘Wisdom has built herself a house’, i.e., the Church (Pr. 9:1). For Christ by Whom grace and truth came, built the Church, as legislator; but Moses, as promulgator of the Law: therefore, it is only as promulgator that glory is due Moses. Hence, his face became bright: ‘So that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance’ (2 Cor. 3:7). Therefore, the sequence of thought is this: You say that Christ is faithful as Moses was. Why then overlook Him? Certainly this man was counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, by so much as he that has built the house has greater honor than the house. As if to say: Even though Moses deserves mention, Christ is more honorable, because He is the builder of the house and the chief lawgiver: ‘Behold, God is high in his strength, and none is like him among the lawgivers’ (Jb. 36:22). Therefore, if Moses is deserving of glory, Christ is more deserving: ‘For is the ministration of condemnation be in glory, much more the ministration of justice abounds in glory’ (2 Cor. 3:9).

162. – Then he proves the minor premise of his reason when he says: For every house is built by some man. But the minor is that Christ built that house. He proves this, first, because every house needs a builder; secondly, because the house of which he speaks was built by Christ, the builder of all things is God.

163. – First, therefore, he proves that this house, as any other, needs a builder, because its various parts are put together by someone. This is obvious in a structure in which the wood and stones, of which it is composed, are united by someone. But the assembly of the faithful, which is the Church and the house of God, is composed of various elements, namely, Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free. Therefore, the church, as any other house, is put together by someone. He gives only the conclusion of this syllogism, supposing the truth of the premises as evident: ‘Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood’ (1 Pt. 2:5); ‘Built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone’ (Eph. 2:20).

164. – Then (v. 4b) he proves that Christ is the builder of that house, for He is God, the builder of all things. And if this is understood of the whole world, it is plain: ‘He spoke and they were made; he commanded and they were created’ (Ps. 32:9) But there is another spiritual creation, which is made by the Spirit: ‘Send forth your spirit, and they shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth’ (Ps. 104:30). This is brought about by God through Christ: ‘Of his own will has he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creature’ (Jas. 1:18); ‘We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works’ (Eph. 2:10). Therefore, God created that house, namely, the Church, from nothing, namely, from the state of sin to the state of grace. Therefore, Christ, by Whom He made all things, ‘by whom also he made the world’ (Heb. 1:2), is more excellent (since He has the power to make) than Moses, who was only the announcer (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Hebrews).

If I understand Aquinas’s analysis of the passage correctly, the author of Hebrews is trying to prove:

C1: Christ is worthy of more glory than Moses

And the premises that support this conclusion are:

P1: For all persons p1 and p2, if p1 is the builder of the house that p2 dwells in, then p1 is worthy of more glory than p2.1

P2. Christ is the builder of the house that Moses dwells in.

Now, C does follow reasonably well from P1 and P2 (see the footnote below). Aquinas notes that further support is provided in verse 4 for the truth of the minor premise, i.e. P2. This sub-argument has massive Christological significance, and the argument looks like this:

P3: For all x, if x is a house, then there is some person who built x.

P4: For all x, if there is some person who built x, the person who built x is God.

From (P3) and (P4), we can draw the conclusion that God is the builder of all houses, or:

C2: For all x, if x is a house, the person who built x is God.

So, given that there is some house that Moses dwells in:

P5: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x.

We can conclude:

C3: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x, and the person who built x is God.

Or in more readable English: God is the builder of the house that Moses dwells in.

But wait a minute! C3 doesn’t say anything like P2. The only way that C3 could be taken to support P2 is if we add a premise, which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews has suppressed, namely:

P6: Christ is God.

The author invites the reader to reason through his enthymeme, and keep in mind the truth that Christ is God, and so the creator of all things, including the Church and all of the houses of Israel, including that of Moses. So from C3 and P6, we can draw out:

C4: There exists some x such that x is a house and Moses dwells in x, and the person who built x is Christ.

And C4 just is P2.

Now, we are also told that Jesus is the Son over the house, but that it is His house. So, we get both the idea that Jesus is the Son of God and God, the creator of all things.

Suppose, for a moment, that the author did not intend such an argument.  Instead, he merely wanted to argue that Christ is the Son of the house, whereas Moses is the servant.  If so, then his entire point about builders being more deserving of glory than members of the house would be wasted ink.  For that entire passage would only prove that God is more worthy of glory than Moses, which is hardly in dispute.  The passage only makes sense if it can lend support to the authors actual conclusion, and the only way to validly reach that conclusion is if we identify Christ as God.

1To be more precise, we should say something like, P1′: For all persons p1 and p2, if p1 is the builder of the house that p2 dwells in, and p1 is not identical to p2, then p1 is worthy of more glory than p2. We would also need to then add P3′: Christ is not identical to Moses, which is a reasonable assumption given the Transfiguration, for instance.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, Ruega por Nosotros

Today we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patroness of Mexico and Latin America.

Official Catholic accounts state that on the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw an apparition of a maiden at the Hill of Tepeyac, in what would become the town of Villa de Guadalupe in the suburbs of Mexico City. Speaking to him in the native Nahuatl language, the maiden asked that a church be built at that site in her honor; from her words, Juan Diego recognized the maiden as the Virgin Mary. Diego recounted the events to the Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the “lady” for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The first sign was the Virgin healing Juan’s uncle. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, where he found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, blooming in December on the normally barren hilltop. The Virgin arranged the flowers in his tilma or cloak, and when Juan Diego opened his cloak before Bishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe, Wikipedia).

In honor of Our Lady, I thought I would share a reflection on the Holy Mother of the Church that occurred to me while I was researching for my post on Richard Carrier and γίνομαι.  According to Carrier, St. Paul never believed that Christ lived a human life on Earth.  Rather, Carrier claims that St. Paul worshiped a celestial Jesus.  Two passages often cited against this view are Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4, as both claim that Christ was of human birth rather than direct divine manufacture. Particularly relevant to the Blessed Virgin is the passage from Galatians, which says:

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law… (Galatians 4:4, NASV).

Carrier counters that the woman in this passage must be taken allegorically, because Paul says:

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother (Galatians 4:21-26).

Carrier argues that the woman in Galatians 4:4 should be taken allegorically because the women in Galatians 4:24 (Hagar and Sarah) are taken allegorically to represent two covenants.  Rather, I think that St. Paul is drawing out an allegory from the literal and historical human birth of Christ to the Blessed Virgin.  Sarah is a typological pre-figuring of Mary.  Sarah’s miraculous conception and birth is the first fruits of God’s covenant with Abraham, a covenant that through the offspring of Isaac, all nations will be blessed (Genesis 22:15-18).  This covenant culminates in a second, greater, miraculous conception, which is the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham to bless all nations of people.  However, if Christ is not truly an offspring of the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, St. Paul would not think that this covenant was truly fulfilled.  Thus, the woman in Galatians 4:4 should be understood to be a real flesh and blood mother, if Christ is to be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.  So, St.Paul takes a literal event, Christ’s birth to a woman, and ties it to Genesis 17, where he promises that Sarah will give birth to a child.

The beauty of the Catholic understanding of scripture is often “both…and” rather than “either…or”.  Carrier wants the woman in Galatians 4:4 to be allegorical rather than literal.  The Catholic response is not to say that she is literal rather than allegorical, but that she is both a literal mother and an allegorical mother.  Mary is, allegorically, the Mother of the New Covenant.  We see, particularly in the Gospel of Luke, to how Mary is likened to the Ark of the Covenant.  She is the Ark of the New Covenant.

On this day, we should remember that St. Paul tells us that the woman allegorically represents the covenant.  As the Son of God took on flesh and was born of a woman, we are adopted as sons and daughters of the same covenant (see Galatians 4:5).  This means that the woman adopts us, and we are her children, which is precisely the point St. Paul draws from the allegory:

So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman (Galatians 4:31, NASV).

As we are children of the free woman, she is our mother (see Galatians 4:26).  Thus, the Holy Catholic Church is quite correct to confer the title Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church, upon the Blessed Virgin Mary.  For, she is the Mother of the Universal Church.  We see this in the scriptures amidst the most important event in all of human history.  During the crucifixion of Christ, He turns to the Beloved Apostle, John, and says:

…“Behold, your mother!” (John 19:27).

Christ adopts St. John the Evangelist as His brother in the last moments before His death.  And John took Mary into his household as his mother from that moment.  So we too should take Mary into our household as our mother. Today, we honor Mary the Mother of God, as it is through her offspring that all nations, including the nations indigenous to the Americas, were, and are, blessed.  The Covenant to God extends out from the tribes of Israel to all tribes and nations of the Earth.  And so she appeared to her children in Mexico in 1531.  When they saw her, they knew she was their mother.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros.

Richard Carrier and γίνομαι

Richard Carrier believes that Jesus Christ never existed.  His theory is that Christ was initially a celestial being and later received historical biographies.  Part of Carrier’s case is that he claims that Paul never makes mention of Christ in any way that would indicate that he was a historical flesh and blood person.  He has a video where he puts together his argument here: At about the 31:50 mark, Carrier addresses a criticism of his argument, and it is his response that I would like to address here.  The criticism is that Paul does indeed indicate that Christ was a flesh and blood individual, who is a born member of the human race.  The significant passages are Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4. That is:

…concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh (Romans 1:3, NAS).

In Greek, is says, “περὶ τοῦ Υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυεὶδ κατὰ σάρκα…” (Romans 1:3, emphasis mine). Likewise, Galatians 4:4 says,

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law… (Galatians 4:4, NAS).

The Greek says, “ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου, ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν Υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον…” (Galatians 4:4, emphasis mine). Carrier’s argument is to focus on γενόμενον or γενομένου, which are the accusative and genitive forms of the aorist participle of γίνομαι.  According to Carrier, this is an odd form of the verb to use for “born”, and indicates that Paul was trying to make a specific point, namely that Christ was directly made or manufactured by God.  Thus, these passages don’t actually conflict with the idea that Christ was a celestial being.  Carrier makes the point that this is the same word used in the to describe the creation of Adam.  He may have had Genesis 2:7 in mind:

Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7, NAS).

The verse in the Septuagint reads: “…και έπλασεν ο θεός τον άνθρωπον χουν λαβών από της γης και ενεφύσησεν εις το πρόσωπον αυτού πνοήν ζωής και εγένετο  ο άνθρωπος εις ψυχήν ζώσαν…” (Genesis 2:7, LXX emphasis mine). In this verse we see the aorist indicative form of γίνομαι, which is related, though not precisely the same form of the verb that Paul uses. Another important point is that the verb being used to describe the moment of divine manufacture is not εγένετο, but έπλασεν, the third person aorist indicative of the verb πλάσσω, which means “to form” or “to mould”.  The verb εγένετο is used in the context of saying that when God breathed life into Adam, he “became” a living man.  So here, the verb is being used more broadly to discuss a change of state or coming to be of life from the non-living clay that God had formed.  So it isn’t exactly correct to say that γίνομαι means “divine manufacture”.  At best, πλάσσω could take that meaning.  Instead, γίνομαι can mean “become”, but in this context it is the coming to be of life in the body of Adam, which is γίνομαι + a predicate (living) rather than γίνομαι + a person, in which the proper translation is “born”.  So, context always rules over these situations.  It makes sense to say that Adam came to be a living soul, but in Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 we are talking about γίνομαι + a person, not a property, predicate, event, or state of affairs.  Citing Adam in Genesis just won’t do. Perhaps Carrier has St. Paul in mind when he says:

So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45, NAS).

“οὕτως καὶ γέγραπται Ἐγένετο ὁ πρῶτος ἄνθρωπος Ἀδὰμ εἰς ψυχὴν ζῶσαν· ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ εἰς πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν (1 Corinthians 15:45, emphasis mine).” As you can see, Paul is quoting from the Septuagint at Genesis 2:7.  The only difference is that he inserts “first” and “Adam” because he is making the typological contrast that Jesus Christ is the “last Adam.”  So this can no more be used to indicate that εγένετο in Paul mean “manufacture” rather than “born” than it could in Genesis 2:7.  Genesis, and Paul’s quote of Genesis, predicates “living soul” of Adam—that he became a living soul—so it is simply wrong to translate this passage as “born” here.  The New American Standard correctly translate this as “became.” Carrier notes that Paul doesn’t use the word γίνομαι to refer to a human birth.  This is somewhat question-begging since, he must assume that these two instances are really meant to indicate “to happen, become, or be made” but not “to be born”, which is precisely the question he is raising.  Consequently, he precludes instances where Paul seemingly does use the word because he already assumes that it has a different meaning than “born”.   This is not entirely fair since the word specifically does mean “to be born” in the context of persons, as I’ve mentioned in my analysis of Genesis 2:7.  So it does have broad meaning for a general “coming to be” but Greek relies on context to shave down the meaning.  One need only check Liddell and Scott’s Intermediate Greek Lexicon to see that, of persons, it means to be born, as I have said.  Carrier points out that Paul uses another verb for being born in Romans 9:11 and Galatians 4:23,29.  It is true that Paul also uses γεννάω, but that just means that Paul is willing to use synonyms of a word, it does not not imply that Paul was trying to make a careful distinction.  Carrier then makes a big deal about the fact that some scribes switched verbs in certain manuscripts (indicating for Carrier some grand conspiracy to make Jesus appear historical rather than mythic-celestial). It could be just a substitution error.  They put in the synonymous word by accident. There is a major flaw in Carrier’s argument.  He cites Paul, who is citing the Septuagint, as evidence that γενόμενον means divinely manufacture rather than born, since it is used to describe the creation of Adam.  Well, how is this verb used elsewhere in the Septuagint? I started to check and only made it through the rest of the book of Genesis, but I am almost certain there will be more examples, if I had the time an patience to research the entire Septuagint.  Here, I am searching out the precise aorist participle form of the verb γίνομαι to see how it is used in those context.  We might ask if “divine manufacture” to “born” would be better translations in these passages.

Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac (Genesis 21:3, NAS)

The Hebrew word translated into “was born” is “yalad”, which means “to bear, bring forth, or beget”.  The translators of the Septuagint render the passage this way: “καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αβρααμ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου αὐτῷ, ὃν ἔτεκεν αὐτῷ Σαρρα, Ισαακ” (Genesis 21:3, LXX emphasis mine). Notice that γενομένου, used in Genesis 21:3 is precisely the same word used in Romans 1:3, right down to the same case and number.  So are we to interpret this as “divinely manufactured”?  In the context, we are talking about Abraham, not God.  It doesn’t make sense to translate this any other way.  Surely Paul would be familiar with this passage, if he was familiar with the Greek word used in Genesis 2:7. Also, let us consider this passage:

and the sons of Joseph, who were born to him in Egypt were two; all the persons of the house of Jacob, who came to Egypt, were seventy. (Genesis 46:27, NAS).

Again the Hebrew word that is translated as “were born” is a form of the verb “yalad”.  Let’s see how the Septuagint translated the passage: “υἱοὶ δὲ Ιωσηφ οἱ γενόμενοι αὐτῷ ἐν γῇ Αἰγύπτῳ ψυχαὶ ἐννέα. πᾶσαι ψυχαὶ οἴκου Ιακωβ αἱ εἰσελθοῦσαι εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἑβδομήκοντα πέντε” (Genesis 46:27, LXX emphasis mine). Here we have the same aorist participle, but this time it is the nominative plural form of γίνομαι. Clearly we are seeing a translation pattern here.  And again, consider whether “divine manufacture” makes sense when we are talking about the sons of Joseph! My last example is:

Now your two sons, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; Ephraim and Manasseh shall be mine, as Reuben and Simeon are (Genesis 48:5, NAS).

Again, the Hebrew verb translated to “were born” is “yalad”.  And the Septuagint is as follows: “νῦν οὖν οἱ δύο υἱοί σου οἱ γενόμενοί σοι ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πρὸ τοῦ με ἐλθεῖν πρὸς σὲ εἰς Αἴγυπτον ἐμοί εἰσιν, Εφραιμ καὶ Μανασση ὡς Ρουβην καὶ Συμεων ἔσονταί μοι…” (Genesis 48:5, LXX, emphasis mine). Again, this is the aorist participle of γίνομαι, which comes from the older form γίγνομαι.  It is a word that is commonly translated as born when set within the context of the “coming to be” of humans.  Clearly Paul would have had access to these examples from the Septuagint.  He would have known that it is a common way to translate “yalad”, which means “to beget”.  So Romans 1:3 and Galatians 4:4 are very strong evidence that Paul thought Jesus was actually born of the seed of David, and of a woman, just as the Gospels report.  This is compelling evidence against the thesis that Paul thought Christ was a celestial being who never walked the Earth. So, my assessment of Carrier is that he really did not do a careful analysis of γίνομαι.  I think it is clear that Paul uses the word to mean “born” and that he would have been quite familiar with the verb as one which can mean “born”.  That Paul uses a synonym occasionally does not mean that he wants to use γίνομαι in some technical sense with Adam’s “divine manufacture” in mind.  In fact, there are plenty of instances of the Septuagint where the exact same verb-form is used and “born” is the only reasonable way to translate.  I don’t see how Romans 1:3 or Galatians 4:4 could be about “divine manufacture” like Adam since they specifically mention the involvement of humans in both cases.  Why mention David’s seed or that He will be from a woman at all?  Carrier says that the latter instance is an allegory.  Undoubtedly, he has Galatians 4:21-31 in mind, where Paul tells us that Abraham had two sons, the first born to a slave woman and the second was of a free woman.

This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar (Galatians 4:24, NAS).

So Carrier wants to say that “being born of a woman” is “being born of a covenant” and so Galatians 4:4 really just means that Jesus was born of a covenant, not that he was actually born of a human.  But is this a fair assessment?  Paul makes the point that his discussion of Hagar and Sarah are “allegorizing” of what was said before, namely the story of Hagar and Sarah.  Carrier wants us to extend the allegorical interpretation back to verse 4, but Paul is only indicating that he is allegorically treating the story he just referenced from Genesis.  This does not mean that Paul did not think it was true that Jesus was born of a woman. Rather, a straightforward reading is that he made the statement in Galatians 4:4 quite plainly and then adds an allegorical dimension to the idea of being “born of a woman” by referencing Hagar and Sarah as a way to draw out a deeper dimension of what the birth of the Jewish messiah means given that his lineage traces all the way back to Isaac. But, let us suppose this was meant to be allegorical even in Galatians 4:4.  If so, then Carrier’s claim that it would be odd or incorrect to translate γενόμενον as “born” utterly falls apart.  For it must be translated that way, though allegorically.  Otherwise, we would expect to see a derivation of γεννάω, if Carrier is correct this is the only word Paul would use for “born”. That is, Paul would not use γενόμενον if he intended it to have a different meaning other than “born”. The allegory in which it is employed depends upon us understanding the word to mean “born”.  To slip out of the allegorical language would mean that Paul is slipping between literal and allegorical language, which would be sloppy, if not incoherent.  But if “born” is the proper translation in Galatians 4:4 (though allegorical), then Romans 1:3 is the clincher against Carrier’s case.  For there is no “allegorizing” going on there.  This means that Carrier must recognize that Romans 1:3 is saying that Christ Jesus, who was promised by the prophets, was  indeed “born of the seed of David according to the flesh.”  Without the excuse of saying that this was “divine manufacture”, Carrier has no retreat.  Carrier speculates that, somehow, David’s seed is taken into the heavens to produce Christ, but that speculation is insufficient if the verse indicates birth.  Any reasonable interpretation and translation of the passage would see that Romans 1:3 says that Christ is born, not made or generated.  So, insisting that the woman in Galatians 4:4 is allegorical is not actually helpful to Carrier’s case in the least given that it pretty much proves that γίνομαι + person should be understood as “born”. This shows that Paul is willing to use synonymous terms for “born”, as I suggested earlier in this post.  So, this is not an extra argument that he can add to his thesis that γίνομαι shouldn’t be translated as “born”.  Rather, it directly contradicts that argument.  Perhaps if Galatians 4:4 were the only instance where Paul uses a derivation of γίνομαι, Carrier could simply insist that it is only an allegorical birth of a “woman” = “covenant”.  However, there is also Romans 1:3, remains a thorn in Carrier’s side. The mythicists demand that we throw away all context and instead imagine some grand conspiracy was afoot.  I just can’t buy it.  And Carrier’s efforts to pretend that γίνομαι is inappropriately translated as “born” is either extremely ignorant or dishonest.  Combines with his attempt to allegorize Galatians 4:4, I find his case to be contradictory and confused.

At the end of the day, I think there is good reason to take Paul as an early witness to the testimony of those who directly knew Jesus while he lived his earthly life.  Mythicists emphasize this idea that Paul says little about Christ’s life on Earth, and try to explain away what he does say.  Each attempt to explain away gets more and more convoluted.  My short list of things that Paul claimed about Jesus includes.  I’m sure they would dispute some passages, and offer unusual interpretations of others.  But the point isn’t whether one can explain away evidence to fit an alternative hypothesis, the question is about what is more likely.  Anyways, here is why I think Paul believed in a historical Jesus:

1. Paul says that there was personal experience, or first-hand acquaintance of Christ in the flesh, or according to his flesh (2 Cor 5:16, ‘ἐγνώκαμεν κατὰ σάρκα Χριστόν’– the word ἐγνώκαμεν is translated into Latin as “cognovimus” as opposed to “οἶδα” or in Latin “sciare” which is a more scientific way of knowing things. In Romance languages, like Italian we see the contrast between verbs like “conoscere” and “sapere”, which roughly map on to the distinction. Paul is talking about a familiar sort of knowledge, not an abstract or indirect knowledge).

2. Paul tells us that Christ was born of a woman under the law (Galatians 4:4), born from the descendants, or lineage of David according to the flesh (Rom 1:3). Paul uses the the aorist participle of γίνομαι, which is to be translated as “was born” (see above).

3. Paul credentials himself by writing of a meeting that he had with James, the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). James was a common name—there being more than one James in Early Church leadership, e.g. James, son of Zebedee (who incidentally is also identified via fraternal bond in Acts 12:2)—and Paul uses a particular epithet to identify this particular James, “X the brother of Y” is a common way to identify people and, in the Bible, the phrase never indicates anything other than a real familial bond. “Brother in Christ” or “brethren” is not the same sort of expression as “X, the brother of Y” and no other Apostle, aside from those directly claimed to be familymembers in the Gospel, is given this epithet. It was not just a common way of indicating that James was a believer as this would have been a) redundant given the context, and b) self-defeating since “believer” wouldn’t specify James among believers named James. Also, the familial relationship is corroborated by the Gospels, Josephus, and Hegesippus. Finally, Jude is identified as a brother of James and Jesus in the Gospels (Mark 6:3; Matt 13:55) and Jude identifies himself as James’s brother in Jude 1:1).

4. Paul gets Christ’s teaching on divorce right (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). See Matt 5:32, Mark 10:12, and Luke 16:18.

5. Paul says that Jesus testified before Pontius Pilate (the historical existence of Pilate is fairly well established) (1 Tim 6:13, as the Gospels relate). Celestial beings who are never born or walk on Earth do not testify before Roman prefects.

6. Paul says that Christ was having supper the night he was betrayed, took bread and a cup and said that it was his body and blood and to do that in his memory, (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, as the Gospels relate).

7. Paul says that Jesus was killed, like the Jewish prophets, by his fellow Jewish countrymen (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15).

8. Paul relates and affirms a very early creed that he learned, that Jesus died, was interred (buried in a tomb—to celebrate funeral rites as opposed to merely be put in a common pit), rose on the third day, and appeared to his twelve Apostles and many others—many of whom Paul says were still alive at the time he wrote the letter, as if to invite his readers to corroborate his testimony by asking them about what they saw. And like the Gospels, he says that God raised Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 15:3-15).

9. Jesus not only appeared in the likeness or form of a man (Philippians 2:7).  Paul explicitly says that Jesus was a man (1 Corinthians 15:21; 1 Timothy 2:5).