Review: Who Created Christianity?

Who Created Christianity?, Craig A. Evans and Aaron W. White, editors. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020.

Summary: A festschrift in honor of David Wenham focused around the centerpiece of Wenham’s theology, the relationship between Jesus and Paul and Wenham’s insistence that Paul was not the founder of Christianity but a disciple of Jesus.

In 1995, David Wenham, a British theologian who has taught at Wycliffe Hall and Trinity College, Bristol, published Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity?, a groundbreaking work. He contended that Paul was significantly informed and influenced by the Jesus tradition, demonstrating parallels between Paul’s writing and what became the gospels. Much of critical scholarship at this time (and still) contended that Paul significantly re-shaped the Jesus tradition from what was a particular sect of Judaism to the faith that spread through the Gentile world and stood apart from Jesus and his earliest followers.

Defending and extending this work was an important aspect of Wenham’s scholarship, and the research he mentored with his graduate students. In this work, a number of those former students as well as an international group of scholars contribute works in his honor, pointing to ways biblical scholars have built on his signal insights.

David Wenham contributes a foreword to the work that serves as a review of his scholarly career and concludes that scholars like himself negotiate a path between parallelmania and parallelphobia, the challenge of seeing strong parallels between the teaching of Jesus and Paul. Aaron W. White’s preface adds biographical information on David Wenham and explains the organization of the work. Stanley E. Porter then introduces the history of the discussion of the continuities and discontinuities between Jesus and Paul, from the early Fathers to the present, noting the fluctuation between continuity and discontinuity..

The remainder of the work is organized in six sections. In “Jesus, Paul, and Gospel Origins,” N. T. Wright, somewhat provocatively argues that if not the founder of Christianity, Paul did invent “Christian theology,” the work of thinking deeply about God, the world, Israel, the Messiah, what it means to be human, and the future. Graham Twelftree considers the origins of Paul’s gospels: scripture, the Jesus traditions, and revelation. Stanley E. Porter advances the intriguing hypothesis that Paul may well have met Jesus and heard some of the teaching of Jesus and knew of the reports surrounding his life. Rainer Riesner explores the handing along of the Jesus tradition and its use by Paul, whose writings are the earliest in the New Testament corpus. Christoph W. Stenschke examines the continuities between the ministries of Jesus and Paul (including miracles, opposition, suffering, Jerusalem and the temple) and developments. Joan Taylor makes the striking proposal that the author of the “we” passages in Acts, was a woman, likely Thecla (I did not find this persuasive). Editor Aaron W. White concludes this section with an exploration of Paul’s use of possessives (‘my” and “our”) in speaking of the gospel.

Part Two on “Jesus, Paul and Oral Traditions” consists of two articles. Bruce Chilton explores the reliance of Paul on the oral traditions of Matthew’s “little apocalypse” in the writing of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 and the role Silas may have played in conveying “the word of the Lord.” Armin D. Baum considers the numerous parallels between 1 and 2 Thessalonians and contends on the basis of other documents in antiquity that Paul, using pre-formed material to materials and produced these parallels himself. Part Three explores “Themes in Jesus and Pauline Studies” Alister McGrath begins with a sparkling essay on metanoia and the transforming of the believing mind. Peter Turnhill turns to those who do not believe, particularly, those of Israel and how Paul wrestled with this in his apologetic. Craig Evans explores to what degree there is a connection between Paul on food and Jesus on what defiles and how this impacted Peter. He concludes that on food, Paul was not a “founder,” given the precedents set both by Jesus and Peter. “Women According to Jesus and Paul” consists of two studies of women in Paul. Sarah Harris considers how women are remembered in the gospels and Paul. Erin M. Heim focuses on Junia (who was in Christ before Paul, and thought by some to be the Joanna of Luke 8:2-3. and Phoebe, and more briefly on the other named women of Romans.

Part Five explore “Paul and The Synoptics.” Michael F. Bird observes twelve convergences between Matthew and Paul (not readily thought to converge on anything). Charles Nathan Ridlehoover considers the allusions to the Lord’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-14, as well as allusions elsewhere to much of the material in the Sermon on the Mount. Craig Blomberg considers Wenham’s case for a pre-Markan eschatological discourse to which Paul had access. Steve Walton considers Luke, who wrote on Jesus and Paul, and the parallels Luke draws between them. Part Six turns things around and looks at “Jesus in the Paulines.” Each chapter considers a specific text and its dependence on the Jesus tradition. John Nolland looks at “every sin that a person commits is outside the body” in 1 Corinthians 6:18b. Peter Davids examines 1 Corinthians 5 and the contention that “Jesus is Lord.” Greg Beale considers Colossians 1-2 in terms of the temple and anti-temple in Colossae. Finally, Holly Beers closes out the collection on a high note on Colossians 1:24 on the puzzling statement about “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” drawing on allusions to Isaiah’s Servant and the Servants in Second Temple Judaism.

The collection surveys the field of studies concerning Jesus and Paul quite ably. Stanley Porters proposal of Paul’s possible content with Jesus in Jerusalem before the crucifixion was something I’d not considered but makes sense from Paul’s own biography and the Acts accounts. The basic case of the parallels between the Jesus tradition and Paul showing both his dependence, and as Wright argues, his creative appropriation stirred me to think about how I read Paul in light of that tradition, rather than in the stand alone fashion I often do. The articles on women remind me of how we have often overlooked their importance in both the ministries of Jesus and Paul.

It is easy to take a pass on festschrifts but this is worth a look as an introduction to an important aspect of David Wenham’s work as well as the important questions of how the gospels and Pauline materials connect. The stellar line-up of scholars who write are a mark of the esteem with which Wenham is held and an indication of the scholarly work one will find in this volume.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.