Eyewitness Testimony and the Jesus Tradition in Paul: The Sermon on the Mount as the Background to Philippians

All too often, Pauline and Synoptic scholars seem to live in different worlds, all the while forgetting that their subjects of study did not. Moreover, because of the lack of verbal agreements between Paul and the Synoptics, many dismiss a direct relationship between the two. However, many students of Paul, myself included, comb his letters looking for allusions to the OT based not only on shared language, but also on shared themes and the availability of texts, among other criteria. Since it is unlikely that Paul knew the Synoptics in their final form, a fundamental difference lies between identifying allusions to the OT and identifying allusions to the Jesus tradition in the Pauline epistles. However, nearly all Gospel scholars would argue for the active transmission of the Jesus tradition during the lifetime of Paul. Some scholars, such as Michael Thompson, have suggested methods for finding this tradition in Paul (Clothed with Christ: The Example and Teaching of Jesus in Romans 12:1-15:3 [JSNTSup 59; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991]). However, Thompson and others have not fully reckoned with the possible influence of eyewitnesses to Jesus' career. Whether or not one accepts all of the arguments recently offered by Richard Bauckham, it is likely that eyewitnesses to the historical Jesus were members of the Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean during Paul’s life. Moreover, it is also likely that Paul would’ve heard and interacted with such eyewitnesses. Therefore, in this paper, using a modified version Richard Hays’ method introduced in Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, combined with Bauckham’s recent work on eyewitness testimony, I will introduce a new method for finding possible allusions to the Jesus tradition in the Pauline epistles. I will test this method by examining the possible relationship between Philippians and Matt 5, based on the shared themes of joy, suffering, and Christian maturity. Using the criteria of recurrence, thematic coherence, and historical plausibility from Hays, along with the added criterion of eyewitness availability, I will argue that it is possible that the Sermon on the Mount lies in the near background of Philippians.