The letters of Paul speak more frequently of the resurrected and exalted Jesus than they do
of the earthly Jesus. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the apostle and his addressees did
not know the teachings and main events of Jesus’ life. Their insistence as to the heavenly
identity of Jesus is as likely to have been motivated by contextual factors which guided the
development of the primitive Christological confessions which Paul received in the years
after his conversion. This article will focus on two of these factors: the configuration of the
Christian communities of the Diaspora as foreign cults in a context of religious plurality and
the new revelatory experiences which triggered the formation of a binitarian faith.
Determining the relationship between Jesus and Paul is one of the fundamental tasks of
those who, like Prof. Andries van Aarde, study the origins of Christianity and the beginnings
of Christian theology. The basic question in this regard, at least as it has been formulated
recently by David Wenham (1995), is whether Paul was a follower of Jesus or the founder of
Christianity (see also Wedderburn  and Barbaglio ). In this brief article, I would
like to consider one aspect of this general topic and to offer a few suggestions that might
contribute to a better understanding of the peculiar vision of Jesus that we find in the letters
of Paul. In them, in fact, the apostle moves from the incarnation to the death and resurrection,
leaving in the shadows the activity and teaching of Jesus to which the gospels subsequently
give so much importance.
This contrast raises some questions concerning the knowledge which Paul had of the Jesus
tradition and the value he accorded to it: What did he know about Jesus? Did he know
the traditions which the evangelists later collected? Why does he not refer to them in his
letters more frequently? By contrast, why does he give so much importance to the death and
resurrection of Jesus and to Jesus’ divine condition?