October 9, 2008
On How St.
Paul Knew Christ
"Jesus Lives Now and Speaks With Us Now"
VATICAN CITY (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address
Benedict XVI delivered during today's general audience in St.
The Holy Father continued today the cycle of catecheses dedicated to
the figure and thought of St. Paul.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the previous catecheses on St. Paul, I spoke of his encounter
with the Risen Christ, which fundamentally changed his life, and
then of his relationship with the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus,
particularly with Sts. James, Peter and John, and of his
relationship with the Church of Jerusalem.
The question that now remains is what St. Paul knew of the earthly
Jesus: of his life, his teachings, his passion. Before entering into
this question it could be useful to have in mind that Paul himself
distinguished two ways of knowing Jesus and, in general, two ways of
knowing a person.
He writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Consequently,
from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once
knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no
longer” (5:16). To know "according to the flesh," in a corporeal
way, means to know only from the outside, with external criteria:
one can see a person many times, recognize the individual's facial
characteristics and the many details of how he acts: how he talks,
moves, etc. Yet, even knowing someone in this way, one does not
really know the person, one doesn't know the nucleus of the person.
Only with the heart is one able to truly know a person.
In fact the Pharisees, the Sadducees, knew Christ from the outside,
they heard his teachings, and knew many details of him, but they did
not know him in his truth. There is an analogous distinction in the
words of Jesus. After the Transfiguration, he asked the apostles:
"Who do people say I am?" And, "Who do you say that I am?" The
people know him, but superficially; they know many things about him,
but they do not really know him. On the other hand, thanks to their
friendship, and the role of their hearts, the Twelve at least
substantially understood and began to learn more of who Christ
This distinctive manner of knowing also exists today: There are
learned individuals who know many details of Christ, and simple
people who don't know these details, but they know Christ in his
truth: "The heart speaks to the heart." And Paul essentially says
that he knows Jesus in this way, with the heart, and that he knows
essentially the person in his truth; and then afterward, he knows
Having said this, the question remains: What did Paul know about the
life, words, passion and miracles of Jesus? It seems he never met
Christ during his early life. Surely he learned the details of
Christ's earthly life from the apostles and the nascent Church. In
his letters we find three forms of reference to the pre-Easter
Jesus. First, there are explicit and direct references. Paul spoke
of the Davidic lineage of Jesus (cf. Romans 1:3), he knew of the
existence of his "brothers" or blood relatives (1 Corinthians 9:5;
Galatians 1:19), he knew of the development of the Last Supper (cf 1
Corinthians 11:23). He know other phrases of Jesus, for example on
the indissolubility of marriage (cf 1 Corinthians 7:10 with Mark
10:11-12), on the need that those who announce the Gospel be
sustained by the community as the worker deserves his wage (cf 1
Corinthians 9:14 with Luke 10:7). Paul knew the words Jesus spoke at
the Last Supper (cf 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 with Luke 22:19-20), and
he also knew the cross of Jesus. These are direct references to the
words and facts of the life of Jesus.
Second, we can see in some phrases of the Pauline letters various
allusions to the confirmed tradition in the synoptic Gospels. For
example, the words we read in 1 Thessalonians, according to which
"the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night” (5:2), cannot
be explained by referring to the Old Testament prophecies, because
the metaphor of the thief at night is only found in the Gospels of
Matthew and Luke, hence taken from the synoptic tradition. And when
one reads that God "chose the foolish of the world" (1 Corinthians
1:27-28), one notes the faithful echo of the teachings of Jesus on
the simple and the poor (cf Matthew 5:3; 11:25; 19:30). There are
also the words of Jesus in the messianic Jubilee: “I give you
praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have
hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed
them to the childlike.” Paul knows -- from his missionary experience
-- that these words are true, those who are childlike are the ones
who have their hearts open to knowledge of Christ. Also, the mention
of the obedience of Jesus "to death" that is found in Philippians
2:8 can't but point to the total willingness of the earthly Christ
to fulfill the will of the Father (cf Mark 3:35; Jn 4:34).
Paul therefore knew the passion of Christ, his cross, and the way in
which he lived the last moments of his life. The cross of Jesus and
the tradition regarding the fact of the cross is at the center of
the Pauline Kerygma. Another pillar of the life of Jesus that Paul
knew was the Sermon on the Mount, some elements of which he cites
almost literally when he writes to the Romans: "Love one another.
... Blessed are the persecuted. ... Live in peace with all. ...
Overcome evil with good." In his letters there is a faithful
expression of the Sermon on the Mount (cf Matthew 5-7).
Finally, it is possible to find a third way that the words of Jesus
are in the letters of Paul: It is when he transposed the pre-Easter
tradition to the post-Easter period. A typical example is the theme
of the Kingdom of God. This is certainly at the center of the
preaching of the historical Christ (cf Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke
4:43). In Paul the transposition of this theme is revealed, for
after the resurrection it is evident that Jesus, the Resurrected
One, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, then, is where Jesus is.
And then necessarily the theme of the Kingdom of God, in which the
mystery of Christ had been anticipated, is transformed into
Jesus' own instructions for entering the Kingdom of God are valid
for Paul in regard to the justification by faith: Both require an
attitude of great humility and availability, free of presumptions,
to receive the grace of God. For example, the parable of the
Pharisee and the publican (cf Luke 18:9-14) teaches exactly what St.
Paul discusses when he insists that nobody should glorify themselves
in the presence of God. Also, the teaching of Jesus on the publicans
and the prostitutes, who are more willing than the Pharisees to
receive the Gospel (cf Matthew 21:31; Luke 7:36-50), and his
decisions to share a table with them (cf Matthew 9:10-13; Luke
15:1-2), are found in the doctrine of Paul on the mysterious love of
God toward sinners (cf Romans 5:8-10 and Ephesians 2:3-5). In this
way the theme of the Kingdom of God is proposed in a new manner, but
always faithful to the tradition of the historic Jesus.
Another example of the faithful transposition of the doctrinal
nucleus of Jesus is found in the "titles" that refer to him. Before
Easter, Christ called himself "Son of Man"; after Easter it is
evident that the Son of Man is also the Son of God. Therefore, the
preferred title of Paul for Jesus is "Kyrios" -- Lord (cf
Phillipians 9:11) -- that indicates the divinity of Jesus. With this
title the Lord Jesus appears in the full light of his resurrection.
On the Mount of Olives, in the moment of Jesus' extreme anguish (cf
Mark 14:36), the disciples, before going to sleep, heard how Jesus
spoke with the Father and called him "Abba -- Father.” This is a
very informal word, equal to "daddy," used only by children for
their father. Until that moment it was unthinkable that a Hebrew use
a word such as that to address God; but Jesus, being truly a son,
talked in this way during this hour of intimacy and said "Abba,
In the letters of St. Paul to the Romans and Galatians,
surprisingly, this word "Abba," which expresses the exclusivity of
the sonship of Jesus, appears in the mouths of the baptized (cf
Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). They have received the "Spirit of the
Son" and now carry in themselves this Spirit, and they can talk as
Jesus and with Jesus as true sons of the Father. They can say "Abba"
because they have been converted into sons and daughters in the Son.
And finally, I would like to point out the salvific dimension of the
death of Jesus, as we find in the Gospel in which "the Son of Man
did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a
ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28). The faithful
expression of this phrase of Jesus appears in the Pauline doctrine
on the death of Jesus as a rescue (cf 1 Corinthians 6:20), as
redemption (cf Romans 3:24), as liberation (cf Galatians 5:1) and as
reconciliation (cf Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Here is the
center of Pauline theology, which is based in this phrase of Jesus.
In conclusion, St. Paul did not think Jesus was something
historical, as a person from the past. He certainly knew the great
tradition regarding his life, his words, his death and his
resurrection, but he did not treat them as something from the past;
he proposed them as the reality of the living Jesus. The words and
actions of Jesus for Paul do not pertain to a historic time, to the
past. Jesus lives now and speaks with us now, and lives for us. This
is the true manner to get to know Jesus, and to learn the tradition
of him. We should also learn to know Jesus, not physically, as a
person of the past, but as our Lord and brother, that today is with
us and shows us how to live and how to die.
[Translation by Karna Swanson]
[The Pope then greeted the people in several languages. In English,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In our continuing catechesis on Saint Paul, we now consider Paul’s
relationship to the so-called "historical" Jesus. In a celebrated
passage Paul states that "even though we once knew Christ according
to the flesh, we no longer know him in that way" (2 Cor 5:16). Here
the Apostle does not claim that he knew Jesus during his earthly
ministry, but rather that he once considered Jesus from a merely
human standpoint. Significantly, Paul’s knowledge of Christ came
from the preaching of the early Church. Both his initial rejection
of Jesus and -- after his conversion on the road to Damascus -- his
preaching of the glorified Christ were based on the Gospel as
proclaimed by the first Christian community. In his Letters, Paul
refers explicitly to the facts of Jesus’ earthly life, as well as to
his teaching. His Letters also reflect many central themes and
images drawn from the preaching of Jesus. Paul’s teaching on the
Jesus’ identity as the Son of the Father, in whom we receive
redemption and adoptive sonship, is clearly derived from the Lord’s
own experience and teaching. In a word, Paul’s knowledge of Jesus
and his proclamation of the risen Lord as God’s Son and our Saviour,
was grounded in the life and preaching of Jesus himself.
I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, and in a special
way, diaconal candidates from the Pontifical North American College
with their families: may the grace of Holy Orders enliven you to
preach the Gospel of Christ with conviction and love! I also welcome
pilgrims from the Diocese of Hamilton, members of Christ Teens
Malaysia, ecumenical pilgrims from Norway, as well as visitors from
Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, England, Scotland,
Ireland, and the Netherlands. God bless you all!
© Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana