Were Jesus and Paul Philosophers?

by Rich Davis

In a recent exchange with Paul Moser in the Christ-Shaped Philosophy project, the distinguished Christian philosopher, William Hasker, suggests (at least implicitly) that he regards neither Jesus nor Paul as philosophers. He asks, for example, why we don’t say that Jesus and Paul were “chemists, and composers, and attorneys, and stone-masons?” The answer, he thinks, is obvious:

We don’t say such things about Jesus and Paul because neither of them performed the activities characteristic of those occupations. They did not, so far as we know, perform chemical experiments, or create new pieces of music, or represent clients in a court of law, or building structures out of cut stones.2

Well, with that it is certainly hard to disagree. Hasker goes on to add, however, that

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Neither did [Jesus and Paul] perform the sorts of activities characteristic of philosophers, then or now. They did not give public lectures on philosophical topics, nor did they accept pupils for instruction in philosophy, or compose treatises on philosophical subjects. They did not discuss the writings and opinions of earlier philosophers, nor did they propound novel views on the philosophical topics of their day. They did, to be sure, make assertions concerning some of the matters philosophers often discuss, such as right conduct and the cultivation of virtue. But that no more makes them philosophers, than Jesus’ remark about building on foundations of sand or stone makes him an architectural engineer. So why, I ask again, should we call them philosophers?3

What are we to make of this argument? It seems to me that it is defective along several lines. First, what it would show, at best, is that we have no good reasons for thinking that Jesus and Paul were philosophers. But that scarcely shows that Jesus and Paul were not philosophers. Do you see the difference? The absence of evidence that they were isn’t positive evidence they were not

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