Paul and the Synoptic Jesus Tradition - Heinz Hiestermann - ebook

Paul and the Synoptic Jesus Tradition ebook

Heinz Hiestermann



This study compares the Jesus traditions in Paul's genuine letters to the synoptic Jesus tradition. The aim is to identify parallels between Jesus traditions in the Pauline letters and synoptic Gospels and to determine whether the wording of the Pauline Jesus traditions is closer to any particular synoptic Gospel or Q. Paul's quotes of words of the Lord (1 Cor 7:10–11; 9:14; 11:23–25) as well as possible allusions to Jesus traditions in Paul's letters are investigated and compared to similar synoptic sayings of Jesus. Allusions to Jesus traditions in 1 Thessalonians and Romans are revisited. Special attention is paid to possible allusions in Galatians. The findings show that Paul does make use of Jesus traditions resembling those of the synoptics, particularly the Gospel of Matthew. [Paulus und die synoptische Jesustradition] In dieser Arbeit wird die Jesustradition in den Proto-Paulinen mit der synoptischen Jesustradition verglichen. Ziel der Untersuchung ist es, Parallelen zwischen den Jesustraditionen in den Paulusbriefen und Synoptikern aufzuweisen und festzustellen, ob die von Paulus benutzte Jesustradition im Wortlaut näher an einer der Synoptiker bzw. Q ist. Die Zitate der Herrenworte in 1Kor 7,10-11; 9,14 und 11,23-25 werden erneut untersucht, sowie mögliche Anspielungen des Paulus auf die synoptische Jesustradition im ersten Thessalonicherbrief und im Römerbrief. Ein Schwerpunkt wird auf den Galaterbrief gestellt. Die Untersuchung zeigt, dass Paulus in seinen Briefen synoptische Jesustraditionen benutzt, die vor allem mit dem Matthäusevangelium Gemeinsamkeiten aufzeigen.

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Edited by

Beate Ego, Christof Landmesser, Udo Schnelle and Andreas Schüle

Volume 58

Heinz Hiestermann


Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliographie; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

© 2017 by Evangelische Verlagsanstalt GmbH · Leipzig

This work, including all of its parts, is protected by copyright. Any use beyond the strict limits of copyright law without the permisson of the publishing house is strictly prohibited and punishable by law. This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming, and storage or processing of the entire content or parts thereof in electronic systems.

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Cover: Zacharias Bähring, Leipzig

Typesetting: Konrad Triltsch GmbH, Ochsenfurt

E-Book-Herstellung: Zeilenwert GmbH 2017

ISBN 978-3-374-05109-0


The idea for this study was formed when I took a class on the synoptic controversy dialogues (die synoptischen Streitgespräche) at the Johannes Gutenberg Universtiy of Mainz. During these lectures, I noticed that Jesus’ dialogues with his opponents and the epistles of Paul discuss some similar topics, such as marriage and divorce, laws governing cleanliness and diet, as well as resurrection and eschatology. Since the synoptic problem had fascinated me from the beginning of my theological studies, I wondered where Paul got his teachings on these issues from, and whether his statements on these topics resembled those of one of the synoptic gospels more than the others, i.e. if the Jesus tradition Paul used was closer in wording or thought to one of the synoptics or the sayings source Q.

I also noticed that when the synoptic problem is discussed in introductions into the New Testament, Paul’s letters are seldom considered, even though they were written down before the gospels and contain some of the oldest Jesus traditions. The Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters therefore could help in explaining the synoptic problem.

Many people have played a role throughout the development of the idea for this study to the completion of the manuscript, which was accepted as partial fulfilment of my PhD at the University of Pretoria’s faculty of theology. I would like to thank my promotor, Prof.Gert J. Steyn, for allowing me to do my research with a great deal of freedom, and at the same time, for always being ready to answer questions and give support and motivation.

The Universtiy of Pretoria granted me a postgraduate study abroad bursary. This allowed me to spend three weeks with Prof.Dr.Udo Schnelle at the Martin Luther Universtiy of Halle. Prof.Schnelle’s input into the structure of the thesis and the setting of priorities has been invaluable. Prof.Schnelle was one of the examinors of my thesis, and I would like to thank him and Prof.Dr.Christof Landmesser for agreeing to publish my thesis in the series Arbeiten zur Bibelund ihrer Geschichte.

I would furthermore like to thank the Free Evanglical Lutheran Synod of South Africa (FELSISA) and the St. Peter’s congregation Greytown for allowing me the time to complete my studies. The FELSISA, Georg-Strecker-Stiftung and EKD have contributed towards the funding of the publication. That is greatly appreciated.

The biggest support and inspiration for the successful completion of my thesis came from my family. My parents and parents-in-law are thanked for their continued support and for looking after my wife and children when I was away studying. Lastly, I thank my wife Renate for her patience and understanding, her love and encouragement. She kept the family together while I was studying. Without her, this thesis could never have been completed. This book is therefore dedicated to her.

Greytown, December 2016

Heinz Hiestermann







2.1 The first stage of the Jesus-Paul debate: The continuity between Jesus and Paul is questioned

2.2 The second stage of the Jesus-Paul debate: The search for Jesus traditions in Pauline literature intensifies

2.3 The third stage: The search for parallels develops into a separate part of Pauline literature

2.3.1 From Victor Furnish (1968) to Dale Allison (1982) The focus on 1 Corinthians and Q The first dissertations on Jesus traditions in 1 Corinthians Moving away from 1 Corinthians

2.3.2 From 1984: Concerns are voiced

2.3.3 The search for parallels continues: From Wenham to Thompson

2.3.4 Different points of view continue to be expressed

2.3.5 Since the turn of the millennium: The latest discussions

2.3.6 Unresolved issues from the debate’s history


3.1 Defining the criteria for identifying parallels

3.1.1 Paul’s quoting of other sources Paul’s quoting of the Jewish Scripture Paul’s quoting of pre-Pauline Christian material

3.1.2 The criteria used in the search of Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters Michael Thompson 1991 David Wenham 1995 and David Fiensy 2010 Victor Furnish 1993 Maureen Yeung 2002

3.2 Methodical considerations

3.2.1 Paul’s sources

3.2.2 Verbal agreement

3.2.3 The explicit references

3.3 The assumptions

3.3.1 Quotes of the Jesus tradition in other early Christian writings

3.3.2 The genuine Pauline letters

3.4 The limitations


4.1 Paul’s chronology

4.1.1 Before Paul’s conversion

4.1.2 Damascus and surroundings Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus Arabia

4.1.3 Paul’s visit to Peter in Jerusalem Syria and Cilicia

4.1.4 Antioch

4.1.5 The first missionary journey The apostolic council in Jerusalem and the Antiochian incident

4.1.6 The second missionary journey up to Paul’s stay in Corinth

4.2 Additional factors pointing to Paul’s knowledge of the Jesus tradition

4.2.1 The role of Barnabas and Paul’s other co-workers

4.3 Paul’s initial teaching

4.3.1 Thessalonica

4.3.2 Corinth

4.4 Communicational deliberations

4.5 Summary


5.1 The three explicit references in 1 Corinthians

5.2 “Do not separate”: 1 Cor 7:10–11 and Mark 10:9 // Matt 19:6

5.2.1 The context of the prohibition of divorce Possible synoptic parallels The context of Matt 5:32 // Luke 16:18 Mark 10:1–12 // Matt 19:1–12

5.2.2 Synoptic parallels to 1 Cor 7:10 The origin of the word of the Lord

5.2.3 Synoptic parallels to 1 Cor 7:11

5.2.4 Arguments for Mark being the closest parallel

5.2.5 Arguments for Matthew being the closest parallel

5.2.6 Conclusion

5.3 The right to maintenance: 1 Cor 9:14 and Matt 10:10b // Luke 10:7b

5.3.1 The context of the saying about the right to maintenance

5.3.2 Arguments for Luke being the closest parallel

5.3.3 Arguments for Matthew being the closest parallel

5.3.4 Conclusion

5.4 The Lord’s Supper: 1 Cor 11:23b–25 // Matt 26:26–28 // Mark 14:22–24 // Luke 22:19–20

5.4.1 The context of the words of institution

5.4.2 The oldest form of the words of institution: Some considerations

5.4.3 Arguments for Mark as oldest version

5.4.4 Arguments for Paul as oldest version

5.4.5 Conclusion


6.1 Overcoming evil with good: Romans 12:14–21

6.2 Nothing is unclean: Rom 14:14 and Mark 7:15; Matt 15:11


7.1 A word of the Lord in 1 Thess 4:15–17?

7.1.1 The scope of the word of the Lord

7.1.2 The origin of the word of the Lord

7.2 The thief in the night: 1 Thess 5:2 and Matt 24:43–44 // Luke 12:39–40

7.3 The traditional material in 1 Thess 5:3


8.1 The Gospel is not revealed by “flesh and blood”: Gal 1:16 and Matt 16:16–17

8.1.1 The context of the letter to the Galatians

8.1.2 The understanding of Galatians 1:11–12

8.1.3 A saying of the Lord in Galatians 1:16?

8.1.4 The Synoptic parallels of Galatians 1:16

8.1.5 Possible Jewish and Hellenistic parallels

8.1.6 Conclusion

8.2 The command to love the neighbour

8.2.1 The context of the command to love the neighbour in Gal 5:14

8.2.2 Possible Synoptic parallels to Galatians 5:14

8.2.3 The context of the love command in the Synoptic Gospels

8.2.4 Possible Jewish-Hellenistic parallels to Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8–10 and synoptic counterparts Possible Jewish-Hellenistic parallels to the great commandment Possible Jewish-Hellenistic parallels to the command to love the neighbour Possible Jewish-Hellenistic parallels to the summarization of the Law Possible parallels to the fulfilling of the Law Summary

8.2.5 The context of the love command in Rom 13:8–10

8.2.6 Possible Synoptic parallels to Rom 13:8–10

8.2.7 Possible Jewish-Hellenistic parallels to Rom 13:9 and its parallels

8.2.8 The love commandment in James 2:8; Didache 1:2; Barnabas 19:5

8.2.9 The command to love the enemy

8.2.10 Summary: The parallels between the Gal 5:14, Rom 13:8–10 and the Synoptic Gospels

a. The Law is summarized into the command to love the neighbour

b. The love commandment is connected to the fulfilling of the Law

c. The love commandment is expressed in a list of four or five Decalogue commandments from the second table and d. Decalogue commandments are combined with the command to love the neighbour

e. It is commanded to love the enemy

f. Conclusion


9.1 The authenticity of the Pauline Jesus traditions

9.2 The relationship of the Pauline Jesus tradition to its Synoptic parallels

9.3 The parallels and Q

9.4 Closing remarks





The debate over the relationship between Jesus and Paul, and subsequently the debate over how much Paul knew about Jesus, started more than 200 years ago. In the history of the debate, consensus on the scope of the Jesus tradition available to Paul could not be – and has not been – reached. Some researchers have questioned whether Paul was at all interested in acquainting himself with information about Jesus. Others presuppose that Paul knew a large part of the Jesus traditions contained in the synoptics, if not more.

The disagreement on how much Paul knew about Jesus is largely caused by the apostle’s infrequent use of Jesus traditions in his letters. He explicitly quotes the Lord on only a few occasions (cf. 1 Cor 7:10; 9:14; 11:23b–25). These sayings later became part of the synoptic Jesus tradition.

Current estimations on how much Paul knew about Jesus vary so much that the researchers who have been looking for parallels between the synoptics and the Pauline epistles are often divided into minimalists, maximalists and those with a moderate view.1

Minimalists claim that Paul is only quoting words of the Lord in two or three instances. Everyone seems to agree on 1 Cor 7:10–11 and 9:14. Others add 1 Cor 11:23–25 as a third quote of the word of the Lord by Paul.2 Paul’s other explicit references to words of the Lord (e.g. 1 Thess 4:15) are not seen as actual quotes of words of the earthly Jesus by the minimalists, because a synoptic parallel cannot be agreed upon, or the saying is not believed to be authentic.

A. Resch (1904)3 is normally used as the chief example of someone representing the maximalist few. Resch assumed that all the epistles attributed to Paul were, in fact, written by him and he found more than 1000 parallels between Paul’s letters and the synoptics.4

Those with a moderate view represent the largest group in the debate over the number of parallels between Paul and the synoptics, but even within this group, there are significant differences. There is no consensus on the amount of implicit references to words of the Lord used by Paul. Zimmermann adequately described the situation by observing that between the extremes of the minimal and maximal hypotheses, almost all possibilities are represented in regards to the amount of Jesus tradition that Paul implicitly used.5

When one looks at the debate over Paul’s use of the Jesus tradition in general, the minimalists and the maximalists (and those with a moderate view) do not seem to enter into conversation with one another. Those who find more than just two or three allusions to words of the Lord in the Pauline letters do not seem to take the concerns of the minimalists seriously, and vice versa. This has been already recognized by Dungan, who states: “And so the debate continues, as each side periodically makes additional contributions from within its own presuppositions and, largely, for its own audiences”.6 This problem has to be rectified if one is to come to a broader consensus about the number of allusions.

Contributing to the lack of agreement on the scope of Paul’s knowledge of the Jesus tradition is the fact that the question of how Paul got to know the sayings of Jesus has not been sufficiently cleared. As long as there is disagreement on where, when and from whom Paul learned his Jesus traditions, opinions on the amount of knowledge Paul had about Jesus will remain divided. A look at Paul’s biography is necessary and can provide more insight into the matter.

Another shortcoming concerning the search for parallels between the synoptic gospels and Paul is that there is no comprehensive overview of the history of the search for parallels.7 While the listing of parallels has “become almost a special literary genre within the literature of Paul”,8 there is no history of this “special literary genre”. Most scholars who have searched for parallels begin their works with an overview of the general history of the Jesus-Paul debate. No one has provided a comprehensive history focussing solely on the search for parallels between Paul and the synoptic gospels, nor of the methods used to identify such parallels. A history of the search for parallels is much needed to identify research gaps in the history of the debate and to give an overview for future scholars.

Concerning the synoptic problem, the few quotes or so-called explicit references to the Lord’s words in Paul’s letters do not provide enough evidence to draw any kind of certain conclusion regarding the relationship of the Jesus traditions in Paul’s epistles with those in the synoptics. It is therefore necessary to look for further parallels between Paul and the synoptics in order to find out if Paul knew more than the few Jesus traditions that he actually quotes. Paul’s allusions to words of the Lord – those passages in which he uses words similar to those of Jesus’ statements in the synoptics without indicating it – might reveal more about the Jesus tradition used by Paul and its relationship to the synoptic Jesus tradition.

My interest in examining whether the Pauline Jesus tradition resembles the Jesus tradition(s) of a particular synoptic gospel or of Q has been stirred further by the knowledge that some of the later New Testament letters draw on Jesus traditions, but these seem to know only the gospels of Matthew and Luke. This is particularly the case for James9 and 1 Peter.10 The authors of these letters do not quote from Mark, the oldest gospel, even when Mark provides parallels to a Matthean or Lukan passage. The same applies to the Apostolic Fathers. “Matthew quickly gained the strongest influence on the church in the second century”.11 It would be interesting to find out if the tendency to use only Jesus traditions contained in Matthew and Luke (or maybe Q) could also be found in Paul’s letters, and what conclusions, if any, could be drawn from this observation.

Up to now, many scholars have searched for parallels between Pauline and synoptic Jesus traditions and listed the texts they assume to be parallels, but the results of the research have not been interpreted. The debate has, for the most part, revolved around the number of parallels: scholars have searched for parallels and given reasons for assuming a relationship between the similar verses. However, there has been no comprehensive attempt to use and interpret the findings to find out if the older Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters resemble those of one or more of the synoptics or Q and what conclusions could be drawn from such a comparison.

The Pauline letters are usually not consulted in the research on the development of the synoptic gospels and in the attempts to reconstruct the oldest version of a particular pericope. Discussions on the original wording of the text normally revolve around the comparison of the texts of the synoptic gospels themselves and Q. Consulting the Jesus traditions in the letters of Paul might add to our understanding of the development of these passages, as they were transcribed well before the synoptic gospels and likely before Q. Including the Pauline Jesus traditions in discussions of the development of similar synoptic texts enables one to look at the issue from a different angle.

Interpreting the results of the relationship between Paul’s Jesus traditions and those of the synoptics is important, as it has consequences for our understanding of the text, as the following example shows. Wong opines that Paul has de-radicalized Jesus’ ethical teachings. He compares the teaching on divorce in 1 Cor 7:10–11 to its synoptic parallels in Mark 10 and Matt 19, and argues that while “Mark prohibits divorce and remarriage unconditionally”,12 Paul and Matthew relax the radical prohibition of divorce by allowing exceptions. He concludes that since Jesus strictly prohibits divorce in Mark, Paul and Matthew de-radicalized Jesus’ teachings on divorce. The same can be said of Jesus’ teaching on the right to maintenance (1 Cor 9:14; Matt 10:10).

However, Wong’s argument only adds up if Mark indeed presents the oldest version of the text. If Paul and Matthew agree on divorce, it is at least possible that they, and not Mark, deliver the oldest version, because Paul’s letters were written before the gospels. Matthew, then, could have used an older tradition, similar to the one known to Paul. It could therefore be argued that it was Mark who radicalized the teachings of Jesus – for example, on divorce – or that he knew another tradition of Jesus’ sayings. Therefore, the comparison of the Jesus traditions recorded by Paul to their synoptic counterparts could have theological implications that need to be taken into consideration as well.

According to Riesner, a comprehensive treatment of the question of “Paul and the Jesus tradition” remains a desideratum.13 I want to make a new contribution to the debate, based on the following objectives:

1. To determine where the similarities between Paul and the synoptic gospels lie. Because much has been written about the Jesus traditions in 1 Corinthians, Romans and 1 Thessalonians – that is, those letters normally assumed to contain most of the implicit Jesus traditions in the Pauline corpus – it should not be necessary to extensively rework all the parallels in these letters. However, the remaining undisputed letters of Paul still need to be investigated thoroughly for allusions to synoptic material.

2. To interpret the findings of parallels between Pauline and synoptic Jesus traditions. Up to now, scholars have mainly been arguing over the exact number of parallels. Each scholar lists the texts he or she regards as parallels and his or her reasons for doing so. I will attempt to go a step further and use these parallels in order to find out if one or more of the gospels used the same Jesus tradition as Paul did. Additionally, if a connection between a particular synoptic gospel or Q and Pauline material can be established, the conclusions that could be drawn from such observations must be considered.

3. To investigate the problem of how or from where Paul learned his Jesus traditions. The question has not been answered satisfactorily, resulting in disagreement about the number of parallels.14

In order to achieve the above-mentioned aims I will work as follows: After this introduction (Chapter 1), the history of the debate will be presented in Chapter 2. Here, it will be shown which scholars have worked on the search for parallels, what their findings were, and how the start of the search for parallels originated. Besides presenting a much-needed overview of this debate, the history of the debate should also contribute to identifying and explaining the research gap.

In Chapter 3, the methods and assumptions of this study are listed and discussed. Particularly important is the drawing up of a clear set of criteria for the identification of synoptic Jesus traditions in the letters of Paul. The criteria should help to establish some kind of consensus about where the synoptic authors use similar Jesus traditions to those delivered by Paul. The chapter ends with a deliberation on the limitations of this study.

Before starting the search for parallels between the synoptics and Paul itself, it is necessary to ask whether it is safe to assume that Paul came to know the words of the historical Jesus – or, for that matter, any information about Jesus – as he probably never met Jesus. Many exegetes deny that Paul had any knowledge about Jesus, or claim that we cannot establish how much Paul knew about Jesus. Other authors assume that Paul knew many stories about the life and preaching of Jesus, but they fail to satisfactorily explain why such knowledge can be presupposed. Paul’s knowledge of the Jesus tradition has to be made plausible or the search for parallels between Paul’s letters and the synoptics would be highly speculative.

Therefore, Chapter 4 will focus on Paul’s chronology. It will be discussed where Paul was after his conversion, what he did there, and with whom he came into contact. If the Jesus tradition had already spread to the places Paul stayed and if the people he met after his conversion knew the Jesus tradition, it would be hard to deny that Paul possessed knowledge of Jesus. Many scholars have studied Paul’s general chronology, but it is uncommon to use his chronology with the sole aim of determining to what extent he likely was exposed to the Jesus traditions. Without this step, we would not know if the assumption that Paul was well informed on Jesus could be made, and, consequently, if Paul could be expected to implicitly refer to the Jesus tradition in his letters.

Also discussed in this chapter is the question of what Paul taught the new converts in the congregations he founded on his missionary journeys. Questions concerning the minimum amount of knowledge necessary for new converts to become Christians, and whether this information is contained in Paul’s letters, need to be answered. It can also help to determine how much knowledge of the Jesus tradition one can assume Paul to have known.

In Chapter 5, the focus shifts to the texts themselves. When looking to identify Jesus traditions in the Pauline literature, it is sensible to start working with the texts in which Paul himself explicitly claims to quote Jesus’ words. The explicit references to Jesus’ words in the Pauline literature give valuable insights into the way in which Paul used the Jesus traditions in his letters. These findings can then be used to identify implicit references to the Jesus traditions in the Pauline epistles.

After the foundation of the study has been laid by trying to establish the minimum of Jesus tradition Paul knew in chapters 4 and 5, the next step is to move on to the implicit references, also called allusions. Parallels will be identified with the specific aim of determining in each case if the wording or meaning of the Pauline Jesus tradition is closer to any of the synoptic gospels or Q. This will be done in Chapter 6 with Paul’s letter to the Roman church, and in Chapter 7 with his first letter to the Thessalonians.

In Chapter 8, I will scrutinize Paul’s letter to the Galatians for implicit references to words of the Lord and their relationship to the synoptic gospels. This letter is the only other genuine Pauline letter containing probable allusions to the sayings of Jesus.

In the final chapter, Chapter 9, the findings will be bundled and explained.


For the largest part of the existence of Christianity, there was no debate over the relationship or the theological and historical continuity between Jesus and Paul. “The line of continuity from Jesus to Paul was seen as straightforward and unbroken. The Christ of Paul’s theology was easily identified with the Jesus of the Gospels. But then the questions began to arise”.1 Today, we look back over an almost 200-year history of the Jesus-Paul debate. Although much has been written on the topic in the last two centuries, the debate over the historical and theological continuity (or discontinuity) between Jesus and Paul continues to this day.


It is generally assumed that the Jesus-Paul debate started seriously in the year 1831 with the Tübinger scholar F. C. Baur,2 who started to challenge the assumed continuity between the two men.3 He published an article in which he highlighted differences in the teachings of Jesus and Paul. He also accentuated the fact that Paul seldom referred to words or sayings of Jesus in his letters. He explained Paul’s infrequent references to Jesus by asserting that Paul was not dependent on Jesus for his teachings. He alleged that Paul generally was not even interested in the life of Jesus. Baur consequently argued that there was no continuity between Jesus and Paul and that Paul and the early Christian community had developed their respective doctrines in opposition to each other.4

In 1894, Wendt developed this viewpoint further, by writing that Paul changed the “simple, popular, pictorial teaching”5 of Jesus into a complex theological system, that Paul’s Pharisaic beliefs had corrupted the message of Jesus, and that “whereas Jesus preached a pure piety, Paul speculated about the means of salvation”.6 This line of thought reached its peak in 1904 with Wrede, who took the differences between the teachings of Paul and Jesus to an extreme. He claimed that Paul taught something completely different from Jesus.7 For Paul, Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God, but according to Wrede, Jesus would not have made these claims himself. Jesus did not add a soteriological meaning to his own death, but this stands at the centre of Paul’s teaching.8 Therefore, Paul’s teachings cannot stand in line with Jesus’, but the apostle has to be called the “second founder of Christianity”.9 Wrede’s findings left the possibility “that one could choose between one of the two founders […] if the differences between the two were thought to be irreconcilable”10 open. A large gulf between Jesus and Paul had been opened.

This movement highlighted the discontinuity, and the proponents of continuity between Jesus and Paul began to respond in opposition to these claims. The latter group also started to examine the Pauline letters carefully, and despite of the apparent lack of direct statements about Jesus in them, they hoped to find proof in Paul’s letters that the apostle did have some kind of knowledge about the life and teachings of Jesus.

Paret started searching for Jesus’ words in Paul’s letters with the specific aim of proving continuity between the two men. He did this in 1858 in response to the claims of Baur.11 His work represents the first comprehensive effort to explain how Paul came to know Jesus traditions and how much information about Jesus one can presuppose Paul knew.12 He tried to prove that Paul not only knew and valued “the historical facts of Jesus’ life, but that he also quoted, used, and alluded to the teachings of Jesus”.13 Paret found many similarities between the Jesus traditions in Paul and the synoptics on various topics: in their reports on the passion narrative, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, the disciples of Jesus, and Jesus’ death and resurrection.14 Paret identified general themes connecting Paul to the synoptics, but he did not compare the texts verse for verse, nor did he explain the variations in wording in the parallels. Paret assumed a connection if similar thoughts were found in both sets of writings, even if the wording did not agree.

The search for synoptic material in the Pauline letters quickly became synonymous with Resch (1904). As a proponent of continuity between Jesus and Paul, Resch found more than a thousand parallels between Paul’s letters and the synoptics in his unprecedented study (925 parallels in the nine letters he considered genuinely Pauline, 133 in Ephesians and 100 more in the Pastoral letters).15 Because of the excessive amount of parallels he found, Resch’s name is found in almost every book or essay on this topic. However, his results are rarely taken seriously,16 as many of the instances are regarded as “quite improbable”.17 Resch explained the similarities between the synoptics and Paul by assuming that Paul and the synoptic authors knew and used a common source that contained logia of Jesus.18 The proposed scope of Resch’s Q document is, however, much larger than what is acknowledged today.19

The next name that is often mentioned in the search for parallels is that of Holtzmann (1911).20 Against the extreme views of those who see no continuity between Jesus and Paul, and those who assume total continuity, Holtzmann’s list of parallels is seen as “an example of a moderate viewpoint and a reasonable treatment of the problem”.21 Holtzmann’s aim in comparing the teachings of Paul to those of Jesus differed from that of Paret. The former compared the teachings of Jesus and Paul in an attempt to identify the core of Christianity and not to prove continuity between Jesus and Paul.22 Holtzmann counted twelve certain and ten less certain parallels between the Pauline letters and the synoptic gospels23 (see table below).

Besides identifying parallels, Holtzmann listed the most important literature regarding the search for parallels written before him.24 He started by observing that the old Tübingen School had little belief that Paul used the Jesus tradition. Tübinger scholars like Holsten (1898)25 and Pfleiderer (1902)26 both pointed to the lack of Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters. Holsten, however, still emphasized the importance of Jesus for Paul, because without Jesus, there would not have been the change from Saul to Paul.27 Pfleiderer argued that because Paul had received his gospel through a revelation (cf. Gal 1), the origin of his gospel is pneumatic, which makes it unlikely that Paul would have used words of the historical Jesus.28 This argument would be raised again in future years.

In his essay, Von Soden (1892) probed the role that the Jesus traditions played in missionary preaching when new congregations were formed. To answer his question, he looked for Jesus traditions in all of the New Testament writings, including the gospels. When it comes to Paul’s letters, he argued that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that Paul knew Jesus traditions similar to those of the synoptics29 (his parallels are listed in the table below).

Feine (1902) also identified numerous parallels between Paul and the synoptics, especially with the Sermon on the Mount.30 Because of the many similarities he found, Feine maintained that there is continuity in the teachings of Jesus and Paul.31 For him, Paul’s gospel stands in line with the teachings of the entire early church. Consequently, he proposes that one should not speak of contradictions between Jesus and Paul, but rather of differences.32 These differences could be ascribed to Paul’s individual mannerisms as well as to the fact that Paul did not simply repeat the teachings of Jesus but developed Jesus’ theology further.33

Holtzmann also pointed to the work of Wernle (1897) and Brückner (1903),34 both of whom highlighted Paul’s failure to cite the Our Father as reason for assuming that he was not well versed in the Jesus tradition.35 A year after Brückner, Kennedy (1904) argued that Paul referred directly to Jesus’ words relatively often. He continued: “And these references are, no doubt, merely a sample of his practice in his oral instruction. Numerous important parallels to the sayings of Jesus may be noted in his ethical teaching”.36 Kennedy also found many similarities between Jesus and Paul in their teachings on the Parousia, and argued that they taught a distinctly Christian eschatology that does not completely agree with Jewish eschatological teachings.

While rejecting many of the parallels he found, a number of scholars in later years would agree with Kennedy’s assertion that Paul echoed teachings of Jesus, primarily in ethical matters. Kennedy’s view that there is a clear Christian eschatology in Paul’s letters corresponding to the synoptic view would also be repeated, but would not be able to attract a large following.

Rüegg (1906) was convinced that Paul did not need to consult any documents on the Jesus traditions because he could have asked living persons about the life and teachings of Jesus. He argued that Paul had access to a closed cohesive body of evidence about Jesus.37 Paul actually would have been able to write a gospel himself.38 Rüegg cited Gal 3:139 as proof that Paul was indeed interested in the historical Jesus.40 Rüegg mostly listed Pauline parallels to the Sermon on the Mount in Matt 5–7. He indicated that there are many more parallels in Rom 14 to synoptic material. Even in those instances where no identifiable word of Jesus used by Paul can be located in the synoptics, he argued that the Sinn and Geist of the letters of Paul and the gospels is the same.41

For Weiß (1917), the allusions to Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters are undeniable. He regarded them as proof that Paul was familiar with the Jesus tradition of the gospels.42 Weiß is dependent on Titius for his list of allusions. He reworked and reduced the number of echoes identified by the latter43 (see table below).

In concluding the overview of the search for parallels in this, the first stage of the debate, it can be said that altogether the search for parallels still formed part of the larger Jesus-Paul debate. No literature had yet been written exclusively on the search for parallels between Paul and the synoptics. Just as Paret had devoted only a few pages of his essay on the general Jesus-Paul debate to citing parallels between Paul and the synoptics, it would become a feature of the search for parallels that it would mainly be carried out in essays and single chapters of monographs.

Furthermore, it can be noted that the listing of parallels was not done in what we would call a “scientific” manner. Most scholars have only listed the parallels they identified between the synoptics and the Pauline letters, and have not tried to prove why the texts are to be regarded as counterparts. To assume dependency between Jesus traditions in Paul’s letters and the synoptics in this stage of the debate, it would suffice that the meaning of parallel passages was more or less the same.

Besides, no one listed any criteria for locating their parallels. The door had been left open for the validity of the parallels to be attacked; this subsequently happened in later years. Reasons would be sought for not regarding similar texts as parallels. This became noticeable when the teachings of Jesus were compared to contemporary Jewish texts in an attempt to establish how unique Jesus’ teachings were. As Jesus used and interpreted many well-known Jewish sayings, Wilson (1984) argued that “some of the best parallels are not so much evidence for a connection between Jesus and Paul as for a connection of each of them with his Jewish environment”.44

At this stage of the debate, however, there was nothing more than sporadic listings of parallels within the Jesus-Paul debate. Then, “during this period of the early twentieth century, the debate over Paul and Jesus lay dormant”.45 It would take more than 110 years since the publication of Paret’s essay in 1858 for the first dissertations on the search for parallels to be written by Dungan (1971) and Fjärstedt (1974).

In the following table, the parallels between Paul’s letters and the synoptic Jesus traditions found by the various scholars in the first stage of the Jesus-Paul debate are listed. Interestingly, one finds the most parallels in only three of Paul’s letters: 1 Corinthians, Romans and 1 Thessalonians. 2 Corinthians and Galatians are mentioned, but very seldom. The comparison also shows how little agreement there was between these scholars regarding the parallels.46


By the end of the first stage of the Jesus-Paul debate in the early 20th century, a couple of scholars had voiced their support for the continuity between Jesus and Paul with the help of parallel passages.47 But now, with Bultmann, “the great chasm between Paul and Jesus opened up by Baur and Wrede had a theological home once again”.48 Bultmann once more emphasized the discontinuity between Jesus and Paul. He maintained that the historical Jesus played no part in Paul’s teaching, and went so far as to say that the teachings of Jesus were essentially irrelevant to Paul.49 Bultmann did, however, find one point in which there is agreement between Jesus and Paul: in their teachings on the law.50

Table 1

Table 1(Continued)

In the same year that Bultmann made these statements about the general discontinuity between Jesus and Paul, Davies (1933)51 asserted “just as confidently [as Bultmann], it was the words of Jesus himself that formed Paul’s primary source in his work as ethical διδάσκαλος”.52 Davies claimed that “Paul is steeped in the mind and words of his Lord”.53 Both extreme positions still existed at this stage and a consensus on the matter was still far off.

Windisch (1934/35), who also assumed some continuity between Jesus and Paul, came up with a new explanation for the differences in the two Jesus traditions. He assumed that Paul used two main sources of the Jesus tradition: one originated in Jerusalem and was passed on to Antioch, and the other had its origins in Damascus. Paul shared the gospel of Jerusalem with the other apostles and this gospel is similar to the synoptic material. The gospel of Damascus, however, contains new elements, including Paul’s calling, his relation to Hellenistic Jewism, Syncretism, and the focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.54 In 1 Thessalonians, probably his oldest letter, Paul predominantly uses the Jerusalem Jesus tradition and hence his statements are in line with the synoptics, according to Windisch. The Damascus gospel dominates in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, resulting in discrepancies between the Jesus traditions of Galatians and the synoptics. Still, according to Windisch, the two sources of Paul’s Jesus traditions are not irreconcilable. They can be incorporated into each other.55 This is supported by Paul’s use of the synoptic Jesus traditions in his other epistles, where he mixes his two sources. Therefore, the tensions between the Pauline and synoptic Jesus traditions are not caused by differences between Jesus and Paul, but by differences between the two sources Paul had used. As a result, the tension between Jesus and Paul is already present within the Pauline letters.56 Finally, it is worth mentioning that Windisch pointed out that Paul frequently alluded to Jesus traditions in chapters 12–15 of his letter to the Romans.57 This insight would be confirmed and refined in future years.

Hunter (1940) continued to advocate the continuity between Jesus and Paul by showing similarities in their respective teachings. In his search for similarities between the teachings of Jesus and Paul, Hunter distinguished between explicit references (of which he counted four) and echoes or implicit references to words of the Lord. He argued that Paul knew more of the Jesus tradition than only the sayings of the Lord contained in his explicit references.58 He then searched for allusions to words of the Lord in the Pauline epistles.59 He found ten such cases in Paul’s letter to the Romans, all in chapters 12 and 14 (see table below) and argued that there were just too many parallels with Jesus traditions in these two chapters of Romans for it to be a coincidence. Instead, it holds true that Paul’s ethical teachings in both chapters are “saturated with the ethics of his Lord”.60 Hunter then moved on to 1 Thessalonians where he discovered another eight parallels in chapters 4 and 5. They too are found foremost in the ethical teachings of the letter.61 Therefore, one can say that Paul “had appropriated the essential principles of Christ’s ethics”.62 Outside of these clusters of allusions in Rom 12 and 14 and 1 Thess 4 and 5, Hunter listed Rom 16:19 and Matt 10:16; 1 Cor 13:2 and Mark 11:23 (// Matt 21:21), and finally Phil 4:6 and Matt 6:25 (// Luke 12:22) as parallels. He also suspects that Paul might have known the Lord’s Prayer.63 Hunter thought that, while Paul would not have had written copies of the sayings of Jesus, he would have been able to remember the Jesus tradition after learning it. Paul was, after all, accustomed to rabbinic training.64

Like Hunter, Davies (1955) campaigned for a degree of continuity between Jesus and Paul. He too claimed that Jesus had influenced Paul, particularly in his ethical teachings.65 While regarding the Pauline epistles largely as reminiscent to the synoptic gospels, Davies acknowledged that Resch “has overstated his case”.66 Yet, similar to Resch, Davies explained the similarities between Paul’s letters and the synoptics by assuming that they had used a common source – “the words of Jesus”.67 Apart from six explicit references to sayings of Jesus by Paul, he found a further eight implicit parallels in Romans, nine in 1 Thessalonians and eight in Colossians.68 Neirynck pointed out that Davies’ list of parallels is dependent on that of Hunter.69 The table below, which shows both authors’ lists of parallels, underlines this.

Moule (1952) proposed an even greater degree of continuity between Jesus and Paul than Hunter and Davies.70 He argued that Paul not only taught ethical teachings similar to those of Jesus, but that he also used some of the parables and other illustrative materials found in the synoptics. For example, in 1 Cor 7:35,71 Paul referred to the account of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–42), and in 1 Tim 6:17–19, Paul used images about wealth also found in the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:13–21 (cf. Luke 16:14–15: Lukan Sondergut). Moule attempted to trace the origin of Paul’s Jesus traditions, which he assumed could be found in Luke’s gospel rather than Q because “St. Paul was an intimate of St. Luke”.72

Likewise, Stanley (1961) hoped “that some light may be shed upon Paul’s use of these materials [sayings of Jesus] in his preaching and teaching as well as upon the history of Jesus’ sayings before their redaction in our canonical Gospels”.73 In his review of the parallels, he found that the number of explicit or express references show that Paul “was in the habit of citing such sayings in his preaching and teaching”.74 He further underscored that Paul used Jesus traditions in doctrinal parallels to logia of Jesus75 and that Paul alluded to some of Jesus’ parables.76 Stanley thus found many parallels between Paul’s writings and the teachings of Jesus. He also explained that one could not assume “literary allusions or references”77 between the Jesus traditions in Paul and the synoptic gospels, as Paul wrote before the synoptic authors. Rather, Paul knew and passed on oral traditions.78

Neither Stanley’s nor Moule’s conclusion that Paul knew the parables of Jesus has received much support since. Their suggestion is, for example, criticized by Furnish.79

A year later, Schmithals (1962) proposed discontinuity between Jesus and Paul once more. He admitted that Paul claimed to have quoted words of the historical Jesus, but he doubted that Paul’s explicit references to words of the Lord could be traced back to the historical Jesus.80 In fact, Schmithals regarded even Paul’s explicit citations as words of the risen Lord, which Paul received through a revelation. This includes 1 Cor 7:10 and 9:14 – which most scholars regard as words of the historical Jesus. In Schmithals’s opinion, there are no allusions to words of the (historical) Lord in the Pauline letters at all.81

As can be seen from the above discussion, only a relatively small number of scholars undertook the search for parallels at this stage of the debate. Kümmel was correct when he noted that the Jesus-Paul debate had quieted down.82 Kümmel replied to Schmithals and attempted to counter the latter’s extreme position.83 He tried to explain Paul’s seldom use of the Jesus tradition by assuming that, although Paul had knowledge of the actions and words of Jesus, they only played a subordinate role for him.84 He does not provide any parallels between Jesus and Paul in an attempt to strengthen his case.

In 1963, J. P. Brown looked at possible parallels from a different angle and with another question in mind. He compared the synoptic material to all the New Testament epistles (and not only to Paul’s letters) in an attempt to gain more information about the development of the Q document. He divided and compared material similar to both the synoptics and the New Testament epistles across 23 themes. Brown found many parallels between Q and the epistles, with many of the parallels being different to the ones that have been mentioned up to now. He explained the similarities between Q and the New Testament epistles in the following way: The “Epistolary parallels to Q materials must be due to theApostle’s having echoed Q materials, consciously or not”.85 He continued by saying that

the likenesses and contrasts in the theology of the Epistles and Gospels will continue to be discussed. I suggest that they possess a literary unity: each can be thought of as built around a collection of Jesus’ sayings as nucleus. Those sayings have undergone catechetical interpretation in all cases except [for …] the Gospel of Luke. In the Epistle, the author turns that nucleus of sayings into exhortation throughout […] The Gospel expands the nucleus of sayings with a narrative about Jesus.86

Many scholars have responded to Brown’s position, doubting his assumption that all the writers of the New Testament epistles had access to a collection of sayings about Jesus, which Brown assumed to be the Q document. Tuckett for example ascribed the large number of parallels found by Brown simply to Brown’s understanding of Q. He said: “Brown finds many links between Paul and Q; but he believes in a much larger ‘Q’ than is conventionally thought of: Brown’s ‘Q’ in an edited form is one of Mark’s sources too, so that ‘Q’ might contain most of the triple-tradition as well”.87

At this stage of the Jesus-Paul debate both extreme positions – concerning how much information Paul knew and valued about Jesus – still had its proponents. Neither came closer than the other did to resolving the problem of continuity between Jesus and Paul. It still was sufficient to list some similar verses to argue for continuity between Jesus and Paul. Yet, at this stage of the debate, scholars like Moule, Stanley and Brown looked at the problem with a different question in mind: they searched not for parallels in order to prove continuity between Jesus and Paul (as was done in the initial stage of the debate). They used these parallels to look for the origin of Paul’s knowledge of the Jesus tradition, setting the foundations for the development of a separate topic of New Testament literature in the third stage of the debate. As the table below shows, the number and instances of the parallels listed by the different researchers continued to vary greatly.

Table 2

Table 2(Continued)

Table 2(Continued)


Up to this point, the search for Jesus traditions common to both Paul and the synoptics “used to be made in profusion in reaction to Baur’s standpoint that Paul did not depend on the historical facts of Jesus’ life”.88 In other words, in the first and second stage of the debate, the aim of the research had primarily been to prove the historical and theological continuity between Jesus and Paul. In this, the third stage of the debate, the search for parallels gradually detached itself from the general Jesus-Paul debate and started to become an independent part of Pauline literature.89

Now, essays and monographs written on the topic were no longer restricted to aiming to prove continuity between Jesus and Paul. Scholars started to argue about which texts actually constituted parallels, the number of parallels, and whose number of parallels was most likely to be correct. It was not enough to simply provide lists of parallels, as had been done in the past. Similarities in topics and thoughts were not recognized as compelling reasons for assuming that Paul and the synoptic authors had access to related collections of Jesus traditions. More concrete proof for regarding texts as parallels was now required. Over time, the arguments for and against assuming parallels became more and more specific and detailed.

2.3.1 From Victor Furnish (1968) to Dale Allison (1982)

The third stage of the debate can be said to have started in 1968 with Furnish, who managed to establish a generally accepted number of parallels between Paul and the synoptics. More than twenty years after the release of Furnish’s book (1989), Wedderburn asserted that the work of Furnish “has stood the test of time”.90 Another twelve years later, Wong (2001) proclaimed that “since Victor Paul Furnish, scholars have generally accepted eight […] parallels, in which Paul is thought to have alluded to the tradition of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels”.91 With Furnish’s list of eight parallels, one had a tangible result: one either could agree or disagree with it, and in comparison to it, one could define one’s own position. Debates about the number of parallels now had a base from which arguments could be made.

Furnish allowed some continuity between Jesus and Paul by stating that “it is clear beyond question that Paul was the recipient, and in turn bearer, of Christian traditions”.92 Primarily, Furnish looked at the question of whether or not there is continuity between the ethical teachings of Jesus and Paul, as scholarly opinion on the matter was still divided at that time.93 He then found eight convincing implicit references between the teachings of Paul and of Jesus94 (see table below). Furnish arrived at this number by working through Davies’s list one by one. He kept only eight instances, finding that Davies’s other allusions were not convincing.95 Interestingly, the allusions accepted by Furnish appear in clusters in Paul’s epistles: five are located in Rom 12–14, and the other three in 1 Thess 5. In contrast to others before him, Furnish identified no allusions to words of the Lord in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This is quite remarkable, as most of the explicit references to words of the Lord are found in this letter.

When one assumes that Paul knew and used some sayings of Jesus, eight implicit references to words of the Lord seems to be a very small number. Yet Allison warns that one should not regard “only” eight parallels as meaning that Paul did not know much of the Jesus tradition. Rather, it is the minimum of what we can be sure of.96 The focus on 1 Corinthians and Q

While Furnish was convinced that there was not enough evidence for assuming any implicit references to a saying of Jesus in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, most of the research in the following years on Paul’s use of the Jesus tradition was done on this particular letter. Robinson (1962),97 Kuhn (1970),98 Robinson and Koester (1971)99 and Tuckett (1982)100 all believed that 1 Corinthians showed more similarities with the synoptic gospels than any other letter of the apostle. The first two dissertations on parallels between Jesus traditions in Paul and the synoptics by Dungan (1973) and Fjärstedt (1974) investigated Jesus traditions in 1 Corinthians, too.101

Within the debate over the scope of the Jesus tradition in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, it was proposed that some kind of relationship existed between Q and the Jesus traditions known in Corinth. This was first suggested by Robinson (1962), who believed that the Jesus traditions known to the Corinthians, as well as Q, contained gnostic views. Later on, together with Koester, Robinson proposed a connection between Q and 1 Corinthians in the gnosticizing wisdom language of both writings.102

In a similar way, Kuhn (1970) suspected that, because of Paul’s frequent references to wisdom in 1 Cor 1–3, his opponents in Corinth (who tended to gnostic views) were traditioners of the literary form λόγοι σοφῶν.103 His opponents also possibly were traditioners of the sayings of Jesus in Corinth. Paul could not use Jesus’ words to argue against his opponents, because they were claiming to be in possession of the Lord’s sayings.104 This would explain why he did not quote Jesus traditions more often in this letter.105

Apart from the two explicit quotations in 1 Corinthians (7:10; 9:14), Kuhn located a likely indirect reference to the Lord’s word 1 Cor 13:2. He furthermore regarded a relationship between 1 Cor 1:21–22 and the Q logion Luke 11:29–32 to be probable, as the words σοφία, σημεῖα and κήρυγμα appear in both texts.106 He also saw similarities between Luke 10:21–22 and 1 Cor 1–3.

Outside of 1 Corinthians, he found allusions to the Jesus tradition in 1 Thess 5:2; Rom 12:14; 13:9–10 and 16:9, adding that it is impossible to be completely sure that Paul is alluding to Jesus traditions in these passages.107 He then highlighted that nothing in Paul’s letters suggests that he knew any narrative texts like those of the gospels, not even the passion narrative, even though he was a theologian of the cross.

Tuckett (1983) and Richardson and Gooch (1984)108 continued the debate over the relationship between the Jesus traditions in 1 Corinthians and Q. They did not assume that the Jesus tradition was in the hands of Paul’s Corinthian opponents, but investigated possible links between the text of 1 Corinthians itself and Q. Tuckett said that if it were true that Q was known in Corinth, “it would enable us to see a bit more of the way in which sayings of Jesus were collected and used in the early church; and from the point of view of the synoptic problem, it might furnish some evidence for the existence of Q independent of the synoptic tradition itself”.109

Tuckett worked through proposed parallel texts and concluded that 1 Corinthians does incorporate Jesus traditions similar to those of the gospels, but not those ascribed to Q.110 The result of his survey “is largely negative”,111 because links between 1 Corinthians and Q prove to be “very difficult to establish”.112 Tuckett does not deny that the Corinthians or Paul used Jesus traditions, as there is strong evidence supporting this claim. However, the Jesus traditions they used are probably from an early form of the synoptic tradition, and not from Q material.113

Richardson and Gooch (1984) also asked which Jesus traditions Paul used in 1 Corinthians, why he used them, and whether he passed on the Jesus tradition orally to the Corinthian church. 1 Corinthians 7:10–11 and 9:14 make it clear that Paul did know Jesus traditions similar to those in the synoptics. Therefore, allusions are likely to be found. The allusions they located “centre on mission concerns”.114 Most of their proposed parallels are also found in Q, with a few exceptions, as some logia belong to Markan material.115 Richardson (1984) then explored a possible connection between the “Thunderbolt in Q” and 1 Cor 1–2 and its role in the development of the synoptic gospel tradition, which pointed him to a hypothetical Proto-Luke.116

The debate over the relationship between 1 Corinthians and Q has since quieted down. It has not been persuasively proven that Q (or a similar source) has been known in Corinth. It has even been doubted that Paul knew a form of Q at all.117 The first dissertations on Jesus traditions in 1 Corinthians

Dungan’s study (1971) examined parallels between Paul in 1 Corinthians and the synoptics. He focused exclusively on the quotes of the words of the Lord by Paul in 1 Cor 7:10–11; 9:14. With his study, arguments for or against assuming a connection between texts common to Paul and the synoptics became more detailed and more extensive.