Personfied Myth or Mythologized Person
Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord's brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. (Galatians 1:18-20)
What writings of the New Testament are actually from Paul? I know of no serious scholars that deny that Paul wrote Galatians. In fact you will read in any search or book that is of any reputable scholar that Galatians is authentic. Paul claims in these verses to have met James, the brother of the Lord.
The mythicist position is one in which there is a claim that no historical person exists behind the myth of the Christian Christ. A mythicist must therefore go against all of of scholarship and state that Galatians is a forgery. Or she must make another statement that is even harder to demonstrate. Paul is lying!!!
Now certainly we can show how wrong Paul is about claims such as a resurrection or the idea that there is a god that requires a human sacrifice. But these are his real beliefs. They are not intentional deception. If he is deluded about such things could he be deluded about something like visiting actual flesh and blood people? Kidding aside these are different categories of knowledge. We are left with whether Paul is telling the truth or he is lying.
If he is lying we are required to prove that Paul is taking a mythological pattern found in the Mystery Cults and attempting to create a historical Jewish figure. He would also have to be lying about persecuting previous followers of the Jesus movement. But if he was making up this account then many could have challenged him. Much of his work presupposes that the recipients know some of what he claims and what has transpired.
Let us assume that this passage is an interpolation as a few scholars have hypothesised. Then we are still confronted with Paul's claim in another passage to have spoken to James, the Brother of Jesus, Peter and John who were disciples and knew Jesus:
Galatians 2.... Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. 4 This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. 5 We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. 6 As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism—they added nothing to my message. 7 On the contrary, they recognised that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.[ 8 For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. 9 James, Cephas[ and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognised the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
We can see that he speaks again of a historical encounter with people who supposedly knew Jesus or were in fact related to him. Finally we have Paul stating that he opposed Peter in Antioch, an event that was apparently known or at least verifiable to the recipients of Paul's letter:
11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
We are left with one more possibility that Paul did meet with James who claimed to be the brother of Jesus but James made it up and the fact that he had a brother. Peter and John went along with it and perhaps much of Jerusalem.
These arguments of Paul are to a historical situation. The followers of Jesus were Jewish and had no teachings from Jesus that they were to stop following the Jewish Law. Why because Jesus was Jewish. He was a human brother of James. They thought that he was a great teacher ( as refelcted in Q) and a blameless man that would return soon at the end of the ages as Messiah and in the general resurrection.
How do we know this? Because there are two major movements from the first century that cause many more by the second century. There is the movement in Jerusalem as pointed to by Paul and headed by the original followers of Jesus. And there is Paul who opposes their understanding of the very person they followed.
The beliefs that we find Paul complaining about that James, John and Peter hold are the same claims that the Ebionites held until the early second century. This view was followed by Theodotus and much of the Roman Church authority until suppressed by the mythically oriented movements that viewed Jesus as God. We find this movement in Paul and the Gospel of John.
In Paul Jesus is not yet God he is the son of God. In the Gospel of John Jesus is viewed as a god or divine in the sense of pre-existence. These late first century beliefs became even more diverse by the second century when docetism ( Christ is God but not human ) became popular and a competition in Rome against the views as expressed by Theodotus. Gnosticism also was on the rise where Jesus only appeared to be a human but wa a Spirit. Another form of Gnosticsm saw Jesus as a human in which the God or Spirit of Christ came down into until the crucifixion. At that time Jesus was abandoned. Finally the Trinitarians showed up to try and account for both a human and God in one person. This occurred late second or early third century.
As we can see the easiest and most logical explanation for the information that we have is the typical and traditional critical historical view. There was a historical person that shows up in the source called Q in sayings. He is made Gentile by Mark. Some of the competing movements have a resolution. The Gospel of Matthew is written for the Jewish Churches while the Gospel of Luke and Acts are written for the Gentile Churches ( for example James M. Robinson, The Gospel of Jesus ). Both allow for the acceptance of Gentiles into the Church. But Matthew requires all of the Law to be followed. Jesus states that he has not come to do away with the law but to fulfil it. Not one iota of it will ever change. For Luke and Paul, Jesus complete s and replaces the law.
The Jerusalem Church produced nothing in writing because they were expecting an immediate return of Jesus. And supposedly James, John and Peter were illiterate peasants. It is after the fall of Jerusalem that any thing other than the Saying of Jesus as in Q are written about him. Mark reflects a time right after the fall of the Temple. Matthew and Luke are decades later reflecting apologetics as to why Jesus had not returned though the Temple had fallen.
As the return of Jesus was delayed and delayed he became portrayed as more and more divine with salvation occurring in believing in "Him" rather than his message. His resurrection was into a Trinitarian dogma instead of a historical event. A failed Jewish teacher who had some good ideas became a mythological God whose following has caused 2000 years of superstition and bloodshed in the name of the Prince of Peace and Christian love.