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Are Paul and Jesus on the Same Page?

In response to my previous post on the importance of Paul, I have had several people ask me about the relationship between the teachings of Jesus and Paul: are they actually representing the same religion?  I dealt with that question some years ago on the blog.  Here is the first of two posts on the issue.

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I have spent several posts explicating Paul’s understanding of his gospel, that by Christ’s death and resurrection a person is put into a restored relationship with God. He had several ways of explaining how it worked. But in all of these ways, it was Jesus’ death and resurrection that mattered. It was not keeping the Jewish law. It was not knowing or following Jesus’ teaching. It was not Jesus’ miracles. It was not … anything else. It was Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I then summarized in my previous post, the teaching of Jesus himself, about the coming Son of Man and the need to prepare by keeping the Law of God, as revealed in the Torah, as summarized in the commandments to love God above all else and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

Do these represent the same religion?

I see this as one of the most fundamental and important questions in all of early Christianity. I’m not asking if Paul invented Christianity: he inherited his understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus from those who came before him, even if he understood its significance for Gentiles differently from his predecessors. But I am asking if the gospel that Paul preached is essentially the same or different from the message of Jesus. A very good case can be made, of course, that they are fundamentally different.

The way I used to try to get to this in my undergraduate class was by having my students write a short paper with the following instructions.

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Jesus and Paul: Similarities and Differences
Is Paul Given Too Much Credit?

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Comments

  1. GregAnderson  January 26, 2018

    Disclaimer: I’m a guy who was not raised in a Christian home, who received almost no religious instruction as a youth, and only read and studied the Bible in adulthood (a study which fascinates me today).

    That said, it has always been obvious to me that Paul and Jesus lived in different societies. Paul may have been a Jew, but he was nonetheless a Greco-Romano Jew. He lived in a world where there were mortals, gods, and demigods, and sometimes mortals became gods and were transported to some heavenly realm like Olympus where the gods dwelt.

    Jesus, on the other hand, lived in a society where such ideas were ridiculous. In Nazareth, there’s only one god, and dead people are just dead, or they go to Sheol, or maybe someday they’ll be made alive again, but they aren’t gods, not ever. (Hence, I’ve never given much historical credence to the gospel of John.)

    Assuming my impression is correct here, then it’s not surprising that a man like Paul, who took it upon himself to proclaim Jesus to Greco-Roman polytheists, would need to come up with some sort of “middle ground” mythology to bridge the two disparate world views.




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    • godspell  January 28, 2018

      I’m not sure we know enough about Paul to draw those conclusions. Pharisees were not ‘Greco-Romanans.’ Paul probably did have some exposure to the Greek-speaking world in his travels. He certainly had more experience with the Romans than Jesus did for most of his life, may in fact have been a Roman citizen. He was more educated, we can be fairly certain. He was raised closer to the center of the Jewish world of that time, and I think that actually matters more than his Greek and Roman connections.

      Jesus was John the Baptist’s disciple, which is about as far from Pharisaic Judaism as you could get then. Jesus came out of what you might call the counter-culture of Judaism. Paul was with the in-crowd, Jesus with the out-crowd, and Paul came over to Jesus’ side after he died, and began to reshape it. Jesus wasn’t there to say “That’s not what I meant.” But one universal constant of history is that people who start movements, have no control over how they develop after they’re gone.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

        The only evidence that Paul was a Pharisee is his own dubious claim. He never cites any of their ideas. John the Baptist was not at all far from Second Temple Judaism. He begged non-observant Jews to repent and then to obey Torah. Pharisees were all about learning, teaching, and obeying Torah. Paul spent practically no time in Judea, much less Jerusalem, where all the Pharisaic dialog happened.

        Jesus was not counter-culture. Except for divorce, all the sayings attributed to him in the synoptic gospels could well have been pirated from Hillel. Perhaps they were. They were typical rabbinic dialog. Jesus was never even accused of inadequate observance of Torah. All the arguments were on subjects on which respected sages (Hillel, Shammai) had different views. He was never ‘out-crowd’ in the context of Second Temple Judaism, as portrayed in the synoptic gospels.




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        • meajon  February 12, 2018

          Paul believed in a resurrection and the afterlife, which squarely put him in the camp with the Pharisees. The Sadducees, on the other hand, didn’t believe in either. Why? Because there’s no mention of either the resurrection or afterlife in the Torah. It’s amazing to me that two substantial and influential groups can come to such diverse opinions. One believes in the afterlife and resurrection, and the other doesn’t. Stunning! And they are working out of the same play book. It’s stunning and additional evidence that the Bible is historical, religious, cultural myth-making and nothing more. Important in that sense? Yes. True? No.




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          • HistoricalChristianity  February 15, 2018

            Paul believed in a resurrection, not an afterlife. The afterlife probably didn’t come in until people (like Philo) incorporated Platonic Dualism into their philosophies. The afterlife idea wasn’t in the playbook because it was a different game. Myth or not, Torah wasn’t about either a resurrection or an afterlife.




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        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  February 12, 2018

          What would be your source for saying “He was never ‘out-crowd’ in the context of Second Temple Judaism, as portrayed in the synoptic gospels” if not the Synoptic Gospels?




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          • HistoricalChristianity  February 15, 2018

            Paul believed in a resurrection, not an afterlife. The afterlife probably didn’t come in until people (like Philo) incorporated Platonic Dualism into their philosophies. The afterlife idea wasn’t in the playbook because it was a different game. Myth or not, Torah wasn’t about either a resurrection or an afterlife.




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        • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

          Absolutely right!




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      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  February 10, 2018

        If Acts is right about Paul coming from primarily gentile town/city of Tarsus and if it is true he was raised in the Pharisaic tradition, he could well have been a Pharisaic-oriented Greek speak and Greek-writing Jew who was much more knowledgeable of and influenced by Hellenism. His claims (Acts’?) about studying under Gamaliel are questionable (see Hyam Maccoby’s The Mythmaker: Paul and the Invention of Christianity).

        Also, there is no contradiction between John the Baptist’s mission and what the Pharisees were about. In spite of the Gospel of John (?) condemnation of the Pharisees as vipers, etc., Jesus’ teaching were probably closer to that of the Pharisees than any other sect of Jews. If Jesus was an apocalyptic Jews, he was in the center of a large movement in among Jews, not a fringe or counter-culture movement. Counter the Sadducees maybe.




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  2. Tm3  January 26, 2018

    Both Jesus and Paul had an apocalyptic world view as you have pointed out in numerous ways. Paul had the additional belief in a resurrected Jesus which was necessary for salvation. Wouldn’t you say that for both the end state was a resurrected body on earth for all believers.




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    • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

      The only apocalypse Jesus feared was a Jewish revolt against the Romans, which J knew could only end in disaster for his people.




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  3. Judith  January 26, 2018

    This is really good, I think.




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  4. dragonfly  January 26, 2018

    Will we be getting back to the afterlife soon?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      Before most of us are ready for it. 🙂 But yes, I keep planning to and keep getting side tracked. But it will be coming in large doses. It’s what I’m spending all my research time on.




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      • Telling
        Telling  January 31, 2018

        I really think an understanding of Eastern religions and Western metaphysics is essential for comprehending Jesus sayings, here. Not that he was versed in it, but that the information is universal, comes naturally, is intuitive, because we all share the same afterlife.




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  5. talmoore
    talmoore  January 26, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, when I was trying to untangle Paul’s various beliefs I found it helpful to separate his beliefs into different stages. Stage one are the beliefs be brought with him from his apocalyptic Judaism, pre-Christian contact. Stage two are the beliefs he developed from his contact with Christianity. And Stage three are the beliefs he developed over his years of proselytizing the Gentiles.

    Stage 1. Paul believed things typical of an apocalyptic Jew of his time and place, beliefs that many Essenes, more radical Pharisees and especially John the Baptist’s followers would have shared: 1) Ha-b’sorah tovah: ‘Olam ha-ba ‘al-yad. The good news: The Messianic Age is at hand (near). 2) Ha-t’shuvah ‘al-Adonai. Return (repentence) to the Lord (God). 3) Ha-t’qumah ha-motim. The Resurrection of the Dead. 4) Ha-y’shu’a ha-tzaddiqim wa-din ha-rasha’im. Salvation of the Righteous and Judgment of the Wicked.

    Stage 2. The beliefs that Paul would have gotten from his contact with Christianity, either from the first apostles or directly from the “Elders” in Jerusalem. 1) Jesus was/is the Messiah, who was ignominiously executed by the worldly powers for our transgressions (“worldly powers,” “our” and “transgressions” would each mean something different for Paul in Stage 3). 2) That scripture prophesied Jesus the Messiah’s unexpected demise. 3) Jesus was raised from death as the “firstfruits” of the T’qumah. 3) Jesus as Messiah will return when all Israel has a chance to t’shuvah (repent) and become tzaddiq (righteous).

    Stage 3. The final stage begins with Paul’s belief in the inexorable mission to the Gentiles. After Jesus frustratingly refused to return, the Jerusalem “Church” may have accepted 1) the necessity of taking the “good news” to the Gentiles to discover Ha-tzaddiqim ha-goyim (The Righteous among the Nations). 2) After years of proselytizing to the Gentiles, and Jesus still refusing to return, Paul concluded that the Gentiles who are supposed to be saved as Righteous amongst the Nations are being forced by some Christians to become Jews, when all they needed to do was abide by the handful of commandments (what would eventually become codified as the Noahide Laws), and 3) this insistence on conversion was scaring away Gentiles, hampering the mission, and thus hampering the return of Jesus the Messiah.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

      Good thoughts, thank you. I can make a good case from the synoptic gospels that Jesus believed Phase 1. I can’t make a case that Paul believed it. He held an apocalyptic worldview, but that’s about it. Paul refers to prophecy only by quoting a creed. It doesn’t feature in his own writings.




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  February 10, 2018

      Talmoore, I have a lot of respect for your knowledge and the views you’ve shared in this blog and I’d like to know how you think it possible that some Jews before Paul–in those few short years–came not only to believe that Jesus was the messiah who would return but what Paul called the Gospel he received from them–that is, not just that Jesus was the messiah but that believing in him could save ones soul so that the believer could attain everlasting life. Jews before Paul probably viewed the messiah as a human being, not as a god or God incarnate. So doesn’t it seem near impossible that they would have come to believe that believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection could bring them salvation?




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    • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

      Clever, informative but self-contradictory. Think it through again.




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  6. john76  January 26, 2018

    I find it hard to determine exactly what Paul’s position is because he admits he changes his message depending on whether he is preaching to Jews, or gentiles. Paul writes: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law I became like one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law), to win those under the Law. To those without the Law I became like one without the Law (though I am not outside the law of God but am under the law of Christ), to win those without the Law.…(1 Cor 9:20).”




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

      It’s hard because Paul doesn’t present a consistent, coherent expression of his position, even in Romans, a fairly late writing and the closest we have to a systematic theology by him. For 2000 years, scholars devoting decades of their lives have failed to accomplish ferreting such a position from Paul’s writings. We give him far too much credit as a theologian. In fact, he was a manager, administrator, and marketer.

      Paul’s thoughts about those two demographics (Jew and Greek) met in Romans. He fails even there, even with his fund-raising letter. Or was he speaking as a politician? If you want to find your ideas in Romans, you can.




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    • John1003  February 16, 2018

      Changes his message ? I always took that to mean he would follow the customs of those he was preaching to so as to not offend them. If my wife and I go to on a mission where the women cover their faces then my wife may do that as well. Even though the message would be the same in any country, I would want to show them respect if I expect them to listen to me.




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  7. ddorner  January 26, 2018

    I was always taught that Jesus was being a bit ironic. That Matthew’s message was that noone could fulfill the tasks required for a truly sanctified life, including following the law perfectly and giving away all possessions, therefore the only solution is faith in Christ. After all, Joseph of A is described as a rich man in Matthew, but is also a follower of Jesus.




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    • Leovigild  January 28, 2018

      ddorner: That’s a typical approach of Christian theologians, who wish to harmonize the two documents and have Jesus and Paul preaching the same message, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from the context itself (would we have come to that conclusion if we only had Matthew?)




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      • John1003  February 1, 2018

        Can you elaborate on how the context differ ? The gospels seem vague to me on that point.




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    • falteringfeet  January 28, 2018

      Thats what I was always taught as well.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

      That’s not the message of Jesus in Matthew. A common theme there was the Hedge of Hillel. It’s plastered all over the parables. It’s the opposite of brinksmanship. If you don’t want to be at risk for committing murder, then don’t even harbor anger against someone. Adultery: don’t even entertain fantasies or make plans. Paul says nothing remotely like that. A follower of Jesus was a Jew.

      Only a rich man (i.e. with power and influence), in the Sanhedrin, would even have occasion for private conversation with Pilate. That is necessary to make the story plausible.




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  8. Manuel  January 26, 2018

    “and you will have treasure in heaven. And then come, follow me.” Why would one need or want “treasure in heaven”? More directly, does anybody in the New Testament give a more specific description of what exactly heaven is?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      I’ll be dealing with that on the blog eventually (it’s part of my next book)




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    • Telling
      Telling  January 31, 2018

      Manuel,

      It’s pretty easy to put together what “treasure in heaven” is, logically. With just some limited understanding of metaphysics or Eastern religions (both deemed taboo by the Christian Church), we know we, awareness, continue to perceive whether or not we have a physical body. We merely forget past identities as we take on new ones.”Treasure in heaven” is the bond that unites us with others and with the whole. Necessary to having a lasting identity beyond the grave, it is a kind of gravitational force we refer to as “love”. “Hate”, a twisted form of love, also binds us, but it may not offer the same “treasure in heaven”, being rather a divisive force. Outside of this bond of friendship and kinship, I cannot imagine any other treasure to be found, nothing else being lasting.




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  9. godspell  January 26, 2018

    The first thing we have to remember is that Paul never met Jesus. It is quite commonplace for people to develop highly reverent feelings for someone they never met–whose humanity they never experienced, whose failings (and we all have them) they never witnessed. And they may prefer it that way. You know the saying “Never meet your heroes.”

    Jesus was revered in his lifetime, but as a teacher, a leader, maybe even a potential messiah. Not as God, not as God’s son, not as even a divine being, like an angel.

    The crucifixion, followed by the guilt his followers felt, the deep trauma of that event, triggered visions of Jesus, which were interpreted as his having risen from the dead. Obviously if you believe someone has done that, you start feeling differently about him.

    Paul only experienced Jesus as a bright light and a disembodied voice, as I understand it. Brought on, we assume, by exhaustion and perhaps heat stroke, on the road to Damascus–combined with his own guilt feelings, over having persecuted Christians, who he must have talked to, and something in what they said touched him, made him question his beliefs. I would think his personality was not unlike that of Martin Luther. Somebody who would not intentionally set out to create a new religion, but would do so instinctively, because he wanted to remake the religion he was born into, to better correspond with his own ideas. Jesus was the means by which he could do that. He wouldn’t consciously think about it that way. He’d just become the interpreter of Jesus for those around him–and in interpreting him, he would claim that authority for himself.

    And how can there be any authority at all, if all you need to do to attain eternal life (in whatever form) is to be a good person? No religion can survive on that basis.

    Jesus did not care. Paul did.




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    • Kirktrumb59  January 31, 2018

      This of course assumes that the accounts in Acts of Paul’s conversion, which are inconsistent and dependent upon translation, iare accurate, i.e.,these 3rd person accounts record something that actually happened.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

      Only Judaism even had a moral code as part of its religion. Otherwise, morality wasn’t about religion. The appeal of the apocalyptic worldview was that in the end (whatever that meant), evil people would be punished and good people rewarded. It wasn’t about religion until later Christianity.

      Descriptions of Paul are often used as good examples of symptomology of a seizure of temporal lobe epilepsy




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    • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

      There’s zero evidence Paul persecuted Jesus’s followers. There’s no evidence that he, a nobody, was sent to Damascus by the High Priest. Paul imagined, or most likely, invented the ‘revelation” on the road to Damascus. It put him one up on the Jerusalem churches (Peter, James, etc.) because they had only known Jesus on earth and Paul had risen to meet him “in the air,” i. e., in heaven.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 18, 2018

        Invention is plausible but not necessary. People in that era thought dreams and visions were a source of mystical knowledge and truth. Not so much today, since we understand how the brain works.

        Paul didn’t say the Damascus bit. The anonymous author of Acts said that.




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  10. Liam Foley  January 26, 2018

    I have come to see that Paul and Jesus taught two very different messages. One example is that Paul doesn’t reference much, if any, teachings of Jesus and his major focus is on the death and resurrection of Jesus as you have said. To Paul the teachings of Jesus seem irrelevant. Jesus comes across as teaching about a coming Kingdom of God and how to live’s one’s life to enter into the Kingdom. It seems like a very works oriented message. Yet, as I said yesterday, Paul’s theology does seem sprinkled throughout the Gospels especially in John such as the famous 3:16 verse and verse 1:29 where Jesus is the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world.

    I don’t know if you’ve covered this in the book you’re writing about the after life but I always found the Rich young man’s question about inheriting “eternal life” rather odd. It sounds like the Rich man believed in inhalation (as I think many Jews of his day did believe that) and that “eternal life” was something a few were able to earn. Juxtapose this with Paul who seemed to teach a message that there is an eternal after life (Heaven and Hell) and those who were condemned to hell were those that refused to accept the truth about Christ. Yet there are some verses Paul describes the fate of the wicked as “destruction” where he is using two Greek words or word groups. I have read that these words do not absolutely have to be defined as meaning “destruction” in the sense that something is going “extinct” or be annihilated.

    Did Paul and Jesus have a belief in, and teach a message of, annihilation? Or are both their teachings consistent with a more contemporary belief (one that I don’t share by the way) of a eternal Heaven for the saved and a eternal Hell for the unsaved?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      We don’t have any record of them explicitly teaching it, but I think Paul hints that he held to it. I’m still debating about Jesus.




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    • godspell  January 28, 2018

      I don’t believe Paul felt Jesus’ teachings were irrelevant.

      He differs more in terms of emphasis.

      The epistles can hardly sum up everything he believed. They’re letters. Not all of which he wrote himself.

      The epistles are going to concentrate, of necessity, on the points where he disagrees with certain other Christians. Where there is agreement, there is little discussion. I think at that time, Jesus’ teachings were pretty near universally accepted among Christians, to the extent they were known and understood.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

        Only the Ebionites and the early ‘Jesus Movement’ followed the teachings of Jesus. Paul’s letters were mostly to get people in his assemblies to behave themselves. Yes, Paul blasted those who disagreed with him on doctrinal issues, but that wasn’t the major focus. There are plenty of places where he could have cited Jesus in support of his moral positions. He never did. Most likely Paul neither new nor cared about anything Jesus said or did during his lifetime except die as the universal sacrifice.




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      • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

        What teachings of Jesus do you think were universally accepted?




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 18, 2018

          Universally accepted? None, of course! The students of Shammai would have disagreed with him on many points. You see many of those debates in the synoptic gospels. Since he was teaching Second Temple Judaism, Gentiles could care less what he taught.




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    • tompicard
      tompicard  January 30, 2018

      Preachers are not the same as academicians

      if a preacher, Paul, uses the word “destruction” or “death” for the fate of the “wicked”, he is not using it as such for the purpose of giving an exact detailed description of the fate and environment that those “wicked” ones will someday face; he is using that word “destruction” to exhort some particular people to change their ways, and we should probably just take destruction to mean something very very bad, without expecting from Paul in this context to get the exact gory details.

      the same for “eternal life” that the young ruler desired to know how to gain; understand “eternal life” as something very desirable [Adam and Eve also desired the Tree of Life], but don’t be convinced/fooled that when a preacher such as Jesus describes the method to attain “eternal life” that he is necessarily describing how to live in the physical world forever.

      well that is how i see it .




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

        The idea of eternal life was at home in Greek Platonic and Gnostic thought, but foreign to Jewish thought until Philo worked to synchretize the philosophies. As used in the synoptics, that phrase refers to a resurrection of the righteous at the apocalypse. It was expected to be a return to mortal life on earth, though perhaps never again to end in death.




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  11. Tony  January 26, 2018

    Bart, I remain amazed to the degree that the primacy of the gospel story is a fixed mindset of you, most NT scholars, your followers and Christianity itself.

    Surely, you’ve explained to your students that, in Paul’s time, the gospel stories had not as yet been written. Are scholars unable to – at least temporarily – wipe the gospels from their collective minds? Solo Paulus? Is the question ever asked, what Paul’s letters would look like if Paul knew nothing about Jesus of Nazareth, his ministry, his death in Jerusalem? Is it because the answer will be that Paul’s letters would look exactly the way they are?

    I look forward to your next posts on the subject.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      You may know that I have a book on this, Jesus Before the Gospels.




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      • Tony  January 28, 2018

        I know. For all of your life and career you (and the other 99.9%) have identified the gospels as primary evidence. That’s why on pg 104 your list contain significant inaccuracies – because you’re reading the gospels into Paul. I’ve addressed most of these items over the last year on your blog.

        You raise some interesting questions on pg 105, but the obvious answer escapes you.




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

          I see the gospels as primary sources only for what certain communities of Christians believed at the very end of the first century.




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  12. jwesenbe  January 26, 2018

    In both cases the judgement day was was to happen in their lifetime, or at the most, very soon. Both were wrong.




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  13. anthonygale  January 26, 2018

    I doubt the historical Jesus was planning to die or expecting to resurrect himself, so I don’t think it likely Paul’s view of salvation was what Jesus preached. I realize that believers will disagree.

    Going off topic a bit, would you necessarily consider the gospels to be more reliable than Paul when they disagree about Jesus? Paul wrote earlier than any of them and met eyewitnesses. That would, potentially at least, give him some advantages over the gospel writers.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      I don’t think they ever flat-out disagree on any of the facts of Jesus’ life.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

        The synoptic authors would have been careful not to contradict Paul. The Johannine authors didn’t care.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

      We have no evidence that Paul ever met an eyewitness to Jesus. It wouldn’t take rocket science or mystic revelation for a Zealot or even an apocalyptic preacher to predict his own violent death. The subject matter of the earthly life of Jesus was primary to the gospels. Paul didn’t even touch the subject. Good thing. At best, he would have had only hearsay and rumor.




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      • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

        You don’t think Paul met Peter, James and the others in Jerusalem and Antioch? Where do you get your unique information?




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 18, 2018

          In Galatians, Paul says he met “James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars”. He introduces the section with “those who seemed influential”. He is careful to avoid conceding any credentials to them other than that they were influential. He never claims they were disciples of Jesus, just influential Christians. In the same chapter, he refers to both Peter and Cephas. These were not uncommon names in that era and region. The only primary source we have is the undisputed Pauline writings.




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  14. Hume  January 27, 2018

    Do you think the burning bush was the acacia bush? It has DMT in it, which would explain the hallucinatory effects of a bush randomly burning and talking as God.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      I think it was a legend, so it was not referring to any particular kind of bush.




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  15. Stephen  January 27, 2018

    In your reading of Paul’s letters do you think he is having multiple visions of the risen Jesus or, following Acts I suppose, that he had one overwhelming vision followed by years of experience and reflection?

    thanks




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      One major vision, on which he reflected for the rest of his life.




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      • Tony  January 28, 2018

        Paul claimed he had multiple visions and on an ongoing basis. 2 Cor 12:1-7 cf. 13:3.




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      • SidDhartha1953  January 28, 2018

        Have you watched Hand of God with Ron Perlman? An interesting take on what a mystical experience can do to a person.




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  16. Telling
    Telling  January 27, 2018

    As I understand, it is Paul alone who devised the logic for why Christ died on the Cross. I have Christian friends who say that if the Pauline version is not true then there is no Christianity. But as you also seem to indicate, my friends are entirely convinced that Paul’s message is the same message of Jesus.

    Professor Amy Levine, a Christian and Jewish historian, has said that apocalypse does not mean doomsday, but rather is of a coming age when God rules over the world. This may have been the Jesus teaching but I don’t see it as Paul’s teaching, because it does seem that Paul, by his letters, was stressing end times. Would you agree?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      No, I don’t think it was Paul alone. He inherited this view from the Christians before him (that’s why he was persecuting them!). And I think Jesus thought the actual world itself would be destroyed and recreated.




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      • Telling
        Telling  January 28, 2018

        Bart,

        Certainly early Christians believed Jesus died and was resurrected, but I only see Paul as giving a clear explanation as to there being a purpose for it other than as just another of his long stream of miracles. After all, the raising of Lazarus accomplishes the same thing, of eternal life proven through a Jesus miracle.

        Paul, in Galatians 1:12 says he did not receive the gospel from anyone else, and he goes on to explain the unexplainable problem: “Cursed is everyone who is hung from a tree”, and spins his tale of there being salvation only through the blood. And then he chastises Peter for placing emphasis on the Law, all in Galatians.

        If Paul is speaking truthfully then he coined the idea of salvation through the Cross, at least from his viewpoint, while Peter’s group taught of salvation through the Law.

        It appears to me that the Roman Catholic Fathers were influenced by Paul rather than by Peter, having generally served as authorities in churches he influenced.

        Is there evidence of any Church founder teaching the message of salvation through the Crucifixion story who clearly or probably was not in contact with Pauline influence?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 29, 2018

          The very (very!) big problem is that we don’t have any Christian writings at *all* before 70 CE, except those of Paul. So knowing what Christians said and taught is difficult indeed. But one would have to think that Paul was persecuting CHristians for a reason, and what he hints at is that it was because they were claiming that the messiah was crucified, an idea repugnant to him prior to his conversion.




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          • Telling
            Telling  January 29, 2018

            It is surely an established fact that it was widely believed that Jesus (Messiah) was crucified, whether or not he actually was. I am not asking whether Paul believed Jesus was crucified, surely he did. The question is, who made the Crucifixion the critical element of Christianity, that is, who came up with the idea that we are saved by the blood he shed on the Cross and by his resurrection three days later? The fact that there are no pre-Pauline surviving texts from Peter’s Jerusalem church tells me that the idea was Paul’s; an ensuing battle of ideas between him and Peter ending in Paul’s victory. I gather, from what you say, that this idea, while impossible to prove, is not disproved by the known facts. With historians puzzled over the serious split between Paul and Peter and his entourage, It seems to me to be the likely scenario, and thus for historians the real teachings of Jesus remain a mystery. Am I overlooking something?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 30, 2018

            I try to explain all this in my book How Jesus Became God. As soon as the disciples came to believe in the resurrection, they had to make sense of the crucifixion as part of God’s plan, and that’s where the idea that it was a sacrifice for sins originated.




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          • Telling
            Telling  January 30, 2018

            You just said we don’t have any Christian writers before Paul, and Paul clearly indicates he didn’t get his ideas from any other man. So it seems to me that this historians’ belief is mere conjecture. but I’ll take a look at your book, as you referenced. Thanks.




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          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2018

            Well, he was persecuting Christians before his revelation, and they must have had *some* beliefs he found highly offensive.




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          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 30, 2018

            Dr Ehrman

            according to Jesus Mark 14:36 everything is possible for God – so salvation must be possible without atonement.

            you said
            >>I try to explain all this in HowJesusBecameGod.
            >>the disciples . . . had to make sense of the crucifixion as part of God’s plan,

            Do you know if any scholars or theologians have considered that the crucifixion was NOT part of God’s plan or even that crucifixion was the exact opposite to God’s plan?
            I heard maybe Kung?




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          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2018

            I don’t know of any offhand, but I’m not particularly well read in modern theology




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          • Telling
            Telling  February 1, 2018

            Bart,

            I’m listening to your Great Courses video on how Jesus became God. You make some compelling points. If I didn’t have the metaphysical background I think I could be convinced (re: Crucifixion and resurrection), and I guess I’d be dismayed too. But I am convinced that Jesus is the Master, and have never had any affinity toward the Crucifixion idea. The thing is, if Jesus was the Master he was not crucified, and if he was crucified then he was not the Master. So, if Jesus is the Master then Paul is the identifiable villain responsible for mucking up the message, a message which stands regardless of whether or not Jesus was the Master — it is universal and timeless.

            I would expect that Paul was persecuting Christians because he thought Jesus had proclaimed himself God. That he thought Jesus had been Crucified would be icing on the cake. The Master crucified? Crazy, just as you’ve mentioned. If Peter had really held that message earlier then wouldn’t the “law” have taken a secondary place to the faith through the Cross message that Paul taught?




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          • Iskander Robertson  February 3, 2018

            The amount of infatuation Paul has with blood and ritual human sacrifice doesn’t seem like he understood the beliefs of those he was persecuting. If he did, would he have persecuted ?




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          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2018

            He was apparently persecuting them for claiming that a crucified criminal was the messiah of God.




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          • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

            You don’t think Paul met Peter, James and the others in Jerusalem and Antioch?




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          • Bart
            Bart  February 16, 2018

            Paul certainly met Peter and James in Jerusalem, and Peter in Antioch.




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    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 28, 2018

      The only thing consistant in Judaism, both now and then, is its inconsistancy. It’s telling that the most authoritative non-Biblical book in Judaism is the Talmud, a voluminous work that consists almost entirely of rabbis arguing over eye-glazing esoterica. As the old joke goes: Eight Jews, nine opinions.




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      • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

        That’s unfair. A willingness to consider differing points of view is a positive attribute, and there is no evidence in Jewish history that being open-minded paralyzed them in their major decisions and/or courses of action.




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  17. ardeare  January 27, 2018

    I see similarities and continuities but not a seamless transition from Jesus to Paul. Using selective NT scriptures, most of today’s churches demand total allegiance to their doctrines such as the Trinity, which I see little evidence for. The majority also want to elevate *grace* to include eternal salvation for the born again serial killer but eternal damnation for any non-believing victims, which I see no evidence for. I attribute much of this to the obvious; dead people don’t attend church, pay tithes, and spread the good news.

    Jesus taught that people should be more concerned with the journey than the destination. If we are kind, considerate, compassionate, grateful, humble, charitable, moral, ethical, and obey the commandments, we would find peace in this life. God will be the judge after death and all will be well. Paul is much more concerned about the destination. His ubiquitous use of the term, ‘God forbid’ shows that his converts were struggling to find a balance between his teachings of grace and works. I believe that Paul’s past haunted him to a large degree and caused him to illuminate the doctrine of grace to a point that it became illogical, then and now.




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    • godspell  January 28, 2018

      Paul is struggling with different problems. Jesus wasn’t trying to create a new religion. He didn’t think there was any need for that. You don’t need outward shows of religiosity when you live in the Kingdom of God, because it’s just an inherent state of being.

      The Kingdom hasn’t come, and based on what Jesus had said, it should have by the time Paul was writing. Paul has perhaps not given up on it coming to pass, but his goal is to create a basis for people of all backgrounds to come together and worship God as he believes Jesus wanted them to.

      It’s a transitional period. He’s a transitional figure.




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  18. Carl  January 27, 2018

    For me, adding verses 23-26 changes the context of Matt 19. It could then be interpreted as a statement that ‘keeping the whole of God’s law is impossible’ at least for mere mortals. Hence the need for a ‘perfect sacrifice’ on behalf of all those that fall short of the required standard.




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    • turbopro  January 28, 2018

      >> Hence the need for a ‘perfect sacrifice’ on behalf of all those that fall short of the required standard.

      If I may pls: how do we get to the ‘Hence …?”

      Is this understanding developed from other NT passages?

      cheers




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      • Carl  January 30, 2018

        Good point. The comment was coming from the perspective of what the rich young ruler would think if he asked Paul “what he must do to inherit eternal life”. ‘Hence…’ was a bit of a lazy attempt to align Jesus’ before death statement to Paul’s after death views in the shortest way possible.

        I reckon the rich young ruler (who must have been outstanding at doing good deeds, but could not totally love thy neighbor as thyself) would realize that he could not earn eternal life by his own means. And if he heard Paul’s views he would relate to ‘faith over works’. Ditto for the disciples who asked “who then can be saved”.

        So in the hindsight of 20 years, Jesus’ words “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” could be interpreted as ‘no human being can reach the required standard for salvation, but God can still make a way for human beings to be saved’. Which could be aligned with Paul’s view of Jesus’ death and resurrection (perfect sacrifice).

        I made the assumption that Matt 19:23-26 has equal authenticity to Matt 19:16-22. Seems that it is also repeated-ish in Mark and Luke.




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

          You’re missing the points of the parable. Torah required caring for the poor. Prophets (and later, sages) often criticize people for failing to do that. The Pharisees associated with the common man (aka the poor). Their rants against the rich were not just jealousy and envy. The rich were the powerful, who often abused their power to oppress the poor, denying them justice, and so on. The point (exaggerated for emphasis) was that this rich man was righteous, but not quite righteous enough. It was to motivate everyone (not just the rich) to care for the poor. This skillful author leaves you pondering whether this man will be considered righteous enough to enter the KOG. It’s far from a claim that righteousness was impossible.

          A common theme in apocalyptic literature was reversal of fortunes. They (the poor) liked the idea that in the KOG they would receive the wealth that they never had, and the sadistic pleasure that the rich would lose theirs. Jesus is saying that not every rich person is unrighteous.




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  19. Carl  January 27, 2018

    Is there any substance to the claim that the original Greek translation of Matt19:24 intended ‘anchor rope’ to be used instead of ‘camel’?




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  20. Lev
    Lev  January 27, 2018

    Do you think the New Perspective on Paul alters this experiment in a meaningful way?

    I understand the New Perspective argues that Paul thought one could enter the Kingdom of God (the new covenant) by faith, but would only remain there if one followed the ethical law (rather than ritual law) and did good deeds. This compares to the Jewish understanding of the old covenant where they entered the covenant through their ancestry and circumcision but only remained in the covenant by keeping the law.

    Once this is taken into account, it could be argued that the rich young ruler could expect similar answers from Jesus and Paul as both believed that it was necessary to follow the laws of God and do good deeds to remain within the covenant of God. The remaining difference would be how would one *enter* the covenant – Jesus appears to be saying being Jewish was not enough – that to enter the covenant one would have to obey the law, which Paul would strongly disagree with.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      The term New Perspective is usually applied to scholars (vast majority these days) who think that Paul was NOT claiming that it was not “good deeds” that could save a person BUT that it was not “following the requirements of Jewish law.” I.e., this is a view that developed in opposition to the Lutheran interpretation of the doctrine of Justification by Faith (which claimed it was faith, not deeds, that saved)




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      The Mosaic Covenant follows the structure of the ancient vassal suzerainty treaty. We saw that first with the Hittites. A conquering empire agrees not to slaughter the conquered if they agree to a treaty. Serve and obey us exclusively, pay your taxes, and don’t rebel against us, and we’ll take care of you. Break the rules and we’ll punish you. The conquered people agree to bind themselves and all their descendants to the terms. If they break the terms, it doesn’t end the treaty, it just brings on punishment. That’s how the Mosaic Covenant works.

      Like all the other apocalypticists, Paul believed that well-behaved people who follow common morality would be on the good side of the apocalypse, while evil (immoral) people would be on the bad side. He summarily tossed all polytheists onto the bad side. Viewing Jesus as the universal sacrifice, Paul believed that people who trusted in (had faith in) that sacrifice, and therefore refused to offer any real sacrifices to the gods, were doing enough to please the gods (or the one God). But since only Judaism even had a moral code associated with its religion, nearly everyone considered morality independent of religion. Most likely Paul thought that your side of the apocalypse was determined by your behavior, not your religion. But at least sometimes he put all polytheists into the bad side. Perhaps Paul was less than clear in his writings because he had not yet decided what his own view was.




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  21. Lev
    Lev  January 27, 2018

    Something I’ve always wanted to ask you, Bart. I understand that in British universities New Testament students are given the option of focusing on Jesus or Paul. I’m uncertain if the same applies to US universities, though. Were you given that choice, and if so, which way did you go?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      I’m not sure it works that way. In the UK, students choose a dissertation to write on any topic and that’s their entire PhD, whereas in the States, the PhD requires subdstantial course/seminar work and exams before the dissertation, and in PhD studies in NT, that involves seminars on a range of topics connected with the NT.




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  22. RonaldTaska  January 27, 2018

    Add in the 25th chapter of Mathew about the parable of the “sheep and the goats” and the argument gets even stronger that Jesus preached that salvation results from helping others and Paul preached that salvation comes from having belief in the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Many churches today seem to emphasize both views of how to get salvation, but having the “correct beliefs” gets priority in many churches. The main argument appears to be that having the “correct beliefs” will result in doing good deeds.




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    • godspell  January 28, 2018

      How is Paul supposed to tell people “All you have to do to be saved is be good to other people” and then say “Now come and worship with us”?

      People would say (not always truthfully) “We already do that, so why do we need you?”

      Jesus did reportedly tell his disciples to proselytize. To make converts. It’s different from what Paul does, but not completely.

      I believe Jesus said “Anyone who is not against us is for us.” The inclusive approach.

      Paul was more “Anyone who is not for us is against us.” The exclusive approach, but based entirely on whether or not you’ll join the ranks. What’s a workable standard for someone joining? Following the Jewish Law? No. Being good to others? How can you be sure? Accepting the idea that Jesus died and rose? That can be made to work.

      You could not form a long-standing organization based only on the core ideas of Jesus, because those ideas were meant to prepare people for something that didn’t happen.




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      • Telling
        Telling  February 1, 2018

        This generation will see the coming Kingdom of God. It happens the very moment that you drop dead, and you very certainly will.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

        Jesus never encouraged anyone to proselytize. As all Pharisees did, he wanted Jews to learn and obey Torah. That would cause God to bless Israel and not curse (punish) Israel. As the Pharisees of Hillel, he appealed to Samaritans to follow Torah as the Jews returning from Babylonian exile understood it. He never appealed to Gentiles to do anything.

        Jesus neither had nor taught the Christian concept of salvation. The Mosaic Covenant was corporate, not individual. If Israel obeyed, Israel would be blessed.

        The key is in Romans 1. If you’re a polytheist, you’re not righteous. If you’re a polytheist, you don’t believe that Jesus was the universal sacrifice, therefore any sacrifice you make (or don’t make) is unacceptable. Therefore you’re not even in contention for an apocalyptic judgment based on works. You’re already disqualified.




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  23. Iskander Robertson  January 27, 2018

    Is “follow me” literal following? live homeless life on the streets? cause it also says “take up cross” which means the suffering which come with living homeless life.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      It means to live life as he did, yes.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      We have no evidence Jesus was ‘homeless’ as the term is used today. Common hospitality meant that an itinerant preacher would stay as a guest in a host home. When he moved on to a different village, he would stay in a different home. I don’t consider a marketing professional who spends half his life in Hilton hotels to be homeless.




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      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  February 12, 2018

        Unless he thought or intended to never go home again but carry out his mission til his death.




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  24. Iskander Robertson  January 27, 2018

    I don’t see how “follow me” means

    “Hey, let me tell you about eating flesh and drinking blood and how human sacrifice will save you”

    Yes, death of martyr and grieving over it is one thing ,but isn’t magical blood atonement completely other thing???




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      Those were clearly metaphorical. They meant to participate in his sufferings. Some (and perhaps, sometimes, even Paul (Rom 8:17)) believed a Christian needed to participate in the sufferings of Christ. That’s why some sought martyrdom.

      The comparison was to eating the sacrificial animal, such as the Passover lamb. They sprinkled the blood on the lintel and doorposts but ate the lamb.




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      • Iskander Robertson  February 12, 2018

        How does consuming a human in ones mind imply participating in suffering ?

        Is spiritual cannibalism a way to draw closer to invisible god ?




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 13, 2018

          You’re overextending the metaphor. Passover was a ceremony. You participate by eating lamb (among other things). The purpose of the ceremony was to remember the namesake event in Egypt. Communion is a ceremony. You participate by eating bread and wine. The purpose of the ceremony was to remember the sacrifice of Jesus. That’s all.




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  25. Seeker1952  January 27, 2018

    I know you’ve addressed the role of the “non-ceremonial” works of the law (ceremonial meaning kosher, circumcision, worship practices, etc) in Paul’s view of salvation and that maybe Paul and James were not all that different in the end result because they meant different things by faith. But I still have difficulty briefly nailing down the relationship in Paul among the non-ceremonial works, faith, and salvation. I don’t think Paul considered such works unimportant.

    Was Paul implying that non-ceremonial works were a part of faith? or a consequence of faith? or maybe, though important in their own right, something separate from faith?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      Yes, Paul seems to have made a differentiation in the law that other Jews of his day did not, between the parts that “make Jews Jewish”
      (circumcision, kosher foods, sabbath observance, festivals, and so on) and parts applicable to everyone (what we would consider ethical requirements)




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      • Seeker1952  January 28, 2018

        Did Paul think it necessary for salvation that people follow the parts of the law applicable to everyone?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 29, 2018

          Yes, he thought those in Christ would do that; but doing that would bring justification with God.




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          • Seeker1952  January 29, 2018

            Hmm. Was “n’t” inadvertently left off the second “would”?

            Maybe I’m splitting hairs but I have trouble nailing this down in my own mind. If the answer is “yes” to my question above, are you saying that “good deeds” are necessary for salvation but not for justification?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 30, 2018

            Scribal error!




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      • Eric  January 29, 2018

        Isn’t that referred to as Noahide Law?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 30, 2018

          The Noahide law is not *all* the ethical prescriptions but a set of specific laws.




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  26. Seeker1952  January 27, 2018

    Would it be accurate to say that most Christian and Jewish theologians (perhaps excluding fundamentalists and evangelicals) would say that Muslims worship the same God as they do–even if God’s name and nature and requirements may be somewhat different? And I wonder if most Muslim theologians would say the same thing about Christians and Jews?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      Yes, I think most serious Jewish and Christian theologians would say this; I don’t know about Muslim scholars — again it would probably depend on how fundamentalist they were?




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      • Pattylt  January 28, 2018

        I don’t know about Muslim scholars but all Muslims that I know claim it is the same God.




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    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 28, 2018

      I’ve noticed many Christians (and some Jews) are rather confused about the “Muslim name” for God. “Allah” literally means, in Arabic, “the God,” (it’s an elision between the Arabic “Al-” which is the definite article and “Elah” which is Arabic for any generic god), and it’s the Semitic equivalent of the Hebrew “El” and “Elohim”. It’s also equivalent to the Aramaic “Elah,” which is supposedly how Jesus addressed God from the cross in mark: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Meanwhile, the name we use to address God — “God” — is so far removed from the word that Jews and Muslims use to address God that it would be fair for Muslims to say that we English speakers are the ones using the “incorrect” name to address God.




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      • Eric  January 29, 2018

        Arabic Christians (and once there were MANY in the Mideast) call their Christian God-the Father “Allah”. It just means “God”, as you say.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

        Good point. When Sia-neng moved from Cambodia to the US, he chose to change his name to a more common American name. If he had not done so, then if I wanted to call him by his name, I had to call him Sia-neng. Otherwise, I wasn’t calling him by his real name.

        The northern tribes of Israel worshiped a god whose name was El or Elohim. The southern tribes of Israel worshiped a god whose name was Yahweh. When the south tried to assimilate the north, they unified the religions by insisting that these were just two different names for the same god. They appeased the northerners by saying Yahweh your Elohim. That appears in English Bibles as the LORD your God.

        A Christian wanting to address their god by name should use Yahweh or Elohim, and pronounce it correctly as it was in the original language. An Arab Christian should swallow his pride and pronounce it correctly in Hebrew. More modern Jews developed a superstition, so they don’t pronounce it or even write it at all.




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  27. tompicard
    tompicard  January 27, 2018

    you kind of say it above

    “they had different understandings of “salvation.” Jesus had an urgent message about the coming kingdom of God . .; and Paul had an urgent message to deliver for the “saved” – those who believed . . .”

    salvation to Paul was primarily toward/for the sake of the individual, but Jesus concept was that salvation was toward the world – in actuality salvation toward and for the sake of God.
    this is somewhat understandable in that with the murder of Son of Man (ie Jesus) God’s intention to imminently create the Kingdom of God was frustrated.

    I think the most important advance in christian thought in the 20th century, but unfortunately not well enough understood is that
    “the kingdom of heaven on earth which Christ was to build was not to be a kingdom of heaven in fantasy. the kingdom of heaven can’t be realized by supernatural miracles but only by people fulfilling their responsibility to solve all the problems in a realistic way in accordance with God’s guidance.”




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  28. tcasto  January 27, 2018

    I too am amazed that people don’t see the difference between Christ’s reported teachings and Paul’s views in his letters. But then, I’m amazed by a lot of things.

    Another aspect of this question, to me, is “if and to what extent” did Jesus anticipate his own death and resurrection? History tells us that there were many apocalyptic preachers in Jesus’ time and most were not crucified. So what would have given Jesus the idea that he personally had to die and be resurrected in order to see or cause the coming of the Son of Man.

    Matthew 19:28 is pretty clear that Jesus expects the new order to come about shortly, and that his disciples will be in leadership positions. What’s less clear is whether Jesus sees himself as the Son of Man, sitting on his glorious throne, or whether is will be the equivalent of the chief of staff.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      In the Gospels Jesus certainly anticipates his death and resurrection; but I don’t think the historical Jesus did, unless, with respect only to his death, he saw the writing on the wall.




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      • Wilusa  January 28, 2018

        I don’t think he expected to die and be resurrected. But could he possibly have thought that if he was about to be executed, God would intervene to save him? That this would be a way of precipitating the apocalyptic change he “knew” was destined to happen soon?

        By modern standards, he probably *would* be considered a “religious fanatic”…




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        • Wilusa  January 28, 2018

          Replying to myself: Of course, he knew God hadn’t intervened to save John the Baptist! So he probably wouldn’t have imagined it would be any different with him.

          Unless he thought God hadn’t approved the *reason* John had placed himself in danger – something as “trivial” as objecting to a marriage.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      Jesus didn’t have that idea. It wouldn’t take rocket science or even a mystical revelation for a Zealot (or even an outspoken apocalyptic preacher) to predict his own violent death. If you wanted a kingdom of God, that meant you wanted a politically independent Israel, free of Roman rule. Even if you didn’t promote violence as a method, you could still be considered a threat to the empire.




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  29. Wilusa  January 27, 2018

    OT: What did you and others here think of the Pope’s claim that Adam and Eve were led astray by “fake news” – when the serpent in the Garden of Eden told them God didn’t want them to eat the fruit of *any* of the trees in the Garden, when in fact God meant only one tree?

    Even if I believed in Adam, Eve, and the serpent, I wouldn’t agree with that!

    In my (Catholic) Bible, the serpent says, “Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” In English, that isn’t the same as “not eat of any of the trees.” It only indicates there was *some* restriction.

    And in the very next sentence, Eve makes clear she knows what the restriction is.

    Where “fake news” might really be said to apply is when the serpent assures her that nothing bad will happen to them if they eat that forbidden fruit.




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  30. mannix  January 27, 2018

    Your friend About Bart contends Mark was written before 50 AD/CE If that were true, wouldn’t Paul have been aware of Jesus’ purported philosophy of salvation? Even if Mark was written in the 70’s, would not Paul have been exposed to oral tradition and would have been aware his message of salvation would not totally jibe with Jesus’? I’m beginning to wonder if Paul was just another Marcion, preaching his own version of Christianity, and only through his extraordinary energy became the most successful.

    BTW, am I alone in regarding Paul as a sometimes annoying pain in the [glutei] with his “my way or the highway” attitude and occasional persecution complex?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      I don’t think Mark could have been written that early. And yes, many others have felt that way about Paul as well….




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      From what I can tell, all of the lead vocal proponents of all the variants of Christianity were like that. As Dr. Ehrman makes clear in his books, all claimed apostolic authority. From what I see, all said nasty things about those who disagreed with them. Had you lived then, you probably couldn’t find any preacher to follow if you didn’t like that attitude.




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  31. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 27, 2018

    So, did Christianity fork or swerve after the crucifixion? Are scholars able to tell when resurrection narratives began to appear in the oral traditions? It would seem that (even if Jesus knew he had to die) the teachings about salvation via the resurrection are a clear departure from Jesus apocalypticism and teaching of setting oneself right with God.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      They began soon after Jesus’ death. I doubt if it was three days, but I doubt if it was as long as three months.




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      • Rick
        Rick  January 29, 2018

        So, if you, or someone you trust, thinks they saw a dead man who had told you he was the messiah, you have to explain away the messiah dieing… And, dieing just to come back probably does not cut it. So, why did he have to die? Ah, to save us all!

        Point is I guess there would have been an intense period of what would turn out to be theological development very early in the movement… Just to explain what happened and counter the opinions of Jews. For it to be so fully developed for Paul to hear it, rather than make it up himself, had seemed awful quick to me.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      Christianity didn’t exist before the crucifixion! There was as yet no sacrifice to believe in! I wish we knew how the idea began. Perhaps some day we’ll unearth earlier writings to answer the question.




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  32. mythosboy  January 27, 2018

    Indeed, imagine “following” Jesus after he was dead (presumably after selling off the relevant possessions and following the Torah): how would one know they were actually following him? Absent some sort of direct, personal revelation? Or perhaps following someone who claimed such a revelation? Say, Saul of Tarsus, or perhaps James the Just? Essentially, Paul’s faith only works if you take him serious on his foundational claim of being a “13th apostle”, subject to his own visions and interactions with Jesus (now safely departed), with relevant interpretations of Jesus’s significance and message taken on an equal footing with the other apostles. So, no, Paul’s understanding of salvation is his own, for his own speculative reasons. But the telescoping process of history and Paul’s out-sized presence in the NT tends to conflate the two different approaches into one, for the purposes of Christian tradition. Reading James Tabor’s “Paul and Jesus” at the moment: so, mea culpa, but I might be a bit “under the influence”.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      To follow Jesus would have meant to follow his teachings. In practice, it would have meant following an apostle of Jesus. That is, a direct disciple (student) of Jesus who ‘graduated’ by being declared by Jesus as qualified to carry on his teachings. We see only someone called Peter graduating in that manner. He was declared qualified to make rabbinic rulings, as Jesus was. You would be obeying Torah. You would trust the ruling of Jesus that doing minimal ceremonial hand-washing (as taught by Hillel) was adequate obedience of Torah. You didn’t have to do the more extreme ceremonial hand-washing that Shammai required of his students. As an apostle, Peter would be expected to perpetuate the interpretation of Jesus.

      Jesus absolutely would not have considered Paul an apostle of his. He never studied under Jesus. He never even met Jesus. He never taught the teachings of Jesus. He seems to have taught the diametrical opposite.




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  33. JohnMuellerJD  January 27, 2018

    Am I correct that Paul and James/Peter disagreed regarding circumcision but that Paul won out? If so, I often wondered how Paul could ever win out in any disagreement between James/Peter for I feel if anybody would have known what Jesus really taught and believed, it would be the people that were actually close to him and with him on a daily basis.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

      Yes, Paul won out. My guess is that it is because so many gentiles really were coming into the faith based on his proclamation.




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      • Pattylt  January 28, 2018

        Let’s be honest here. If I were a male gentile being guided into this new faith but heard of conflicting views whether I needed to be circumcised, I would definitely go with the group saying NO! Surely God wanted me to keep all my manly parts (Oh! The pain) so Paul’s view MUST be correct. (grin)




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        • rburos  February 13, 2018

          Some people actually reversed their circumcision in order to hang out in the gymnasium. Pain again!




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      • Rick
        Rick  January 29, 2018

        But, what does Paul winning out really mean? That James and Peter came around to Paul’s position, or, that the Jerusalem church and James/Peter’s Christianity just withered and disappeared into the diaspora as Jerusalem burned?




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    • godspell  January 28, 2018

      Jesus clearly was willing to accept Non-Jews if they had faith (it’s not really for him to decide who gets into the Kingdom or not, but he believes that faith and good works are how you get in, not adherence to dogma and practice).

      Faith was what mattered to him. He was still primarily a Jewish thinker, but it was not conventional Judaism he was practicing. I find it hard to believe he felt acceptance to the Kingdom would be determined by whether or not you still had an intact foreskin.

      So I think in that case, he and Paul would have found agreement. However, he might have been disturbed by the notion that belief in him alone was sufficient. Irrelevant, since that belief only came about after his death, and could not have come about if he’d lived.




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      • JohnMuellerJD  February 2, 2018

        I agree it may be hard to believe but I don’t think it is clear, for if circumcision (and following Jewish Law) clearly seems to have mattered to Peter and James (or Paul wouldn’t have felt the need to address the issue) is it not much more probable that circumcision also mattered to Jesus as Peter and James knew him and what he really believe so much better than Paul?




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    • meajon  January 28, 2018

      That’s what I think. I would think that the people who knew Jesus, who hung out with him, saw what he did, heard what he said, followed him around, etc. would have best known what Jesus believed. I don’t buy the “oh, they didn’t know who he was or what he stood for or understand his ministry.” What was this group called “The Way,” a group Paul said, “I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect.” I see them as waiting anxiously for the return of Jesus – like immediately or at least soon and not in the next generation or the 200th subsequent generation. “This” generation doesn’t mean “that” generation to me. “This” doesn’t mean “that.” So, the followers of The Way were communists awaiting the immediate return of Jesus. Why own property, why get married, why write Jesus’s biography, why make vacation plans when Jesus is coming right back? Also, James accused Paul of teaching a false gospel. He ordered Paul to repent not by prayer or asking Jesus into his heart but by going to the temple and killing a chicken or something. And don’t take a gentile with you when you go – bad manners and there’s a sign out front saying “No Gentiles Past This Point.”




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  34. cheito
    cheito  January 28, 2018

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    But I am asking if the gospel that Paul preached is essentially the same or different from the message of Jesus. A very good case can be made, of course, that they are fundamentally different.

    My Comment:

    It all depends on what message of Jesus you’re referring to and who wrote that message.

    As you well know, DR Ehrman, many took it upon themselves to write about what Jesus said and did, and most, did this, very irresponsibly.

    The authors of, supposedly, the ‘message of Jesus; literally stole words from each other, and changed each other’s message to suit their own particular theological and political persuasions.

    None of these authors saw Jesus, nor do they claim to have seen Jesus personally. Their message of the life and deeds of Jesus, is obviously biased and certainly historically unreliable.

    The authors of the synoptic Gospels and of the many other writings that relate to us, supposedly, the words and deeds of Jesus, never met Jesus. They were all speculating and writing about thing they shouldn’t have written about.

    Paul, however stands out from all these other authors, in that, Paul, clearly and unambiguously asserts, that the Gospel preached by him, is directly from Jesus Himself.

    I believe Paul was telling the truth. I also believe that Paul’s words are the very words of Jesus. Jesus taught Paul what to say. Paul’s message is, therefore, the message of Jesus.

    You will not find a reliable message from Jesus in The synoptic Gospels, in The book of Revelation, nor in the other many books, whether canonical or not canonical.

    The message of Jesus, then, depends, on what author(s) you choose to quote and believe.




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    • meajon  February 2, 2018

      Wow! So, if I get to pick and chose . . . well let’s see . . . so much to chose from . . . and this is the word of God . . . and I get to pick and chose . . . I chose then not to pick or chose any of it. Done, and I’m off the hook. That was easy.




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      • cheito
        cheito  February 4, 2018

        meajon:

        Of course you’re free not to pick or choose any of it. As far as you being of the hook, I don’t really know what you mean. What hook? Or whose hook, do you mean?

        I, on the other hand, am also free to choose what books in the bible to believe or not to believe.

        I also think than I’m right when I state, that the message of Jesus, depends, on what author(s) one chooses to quote and believe.

        I think I’m right, because the truth is, that the Synoptic gospels are not historically reliable sources, from which I can ascertain accurately what Jesus really said and did.

        If you quote to me, the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Mark, I can’t be sure that those words from the author of Mark are in fact the words of Jesus.

        Paul, however, claims that his words are the words of Jesus, except when he points out otherwise, as in 1 Corinthians 7: 10-12.

        In V 10 Clearly Paul says that it’s not him giving the command but The Lord, but in V 12, Paul clearly says that what he’s going to write, its not the Lord, but his opinion.

        My point is that you either believe Paul, when Paul states that his gospel is really the Gospel taught to him by Jesus and that he didn’t learn it from any human person or institution, or you don’t believe him.

        Paul’s writings are not like the writings of those authors who saw nothing and don’t claim to have seen anything.

        According to Paul, His writings are literally the message of God.

        Why? Because Paul saw Jesus alive after Jesus had been killed by crucifixion. One either believes Paul or one doesn’t believe Paul.

        ______________________________

        _________________________________________________

        1 Corinthians 7:10-12

        10-But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
        11-(but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.
        12-But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 10, 2018

      Not directly from Jesus, but from mystical dreams and visions that he thinks are providing truth about Jesus. Also from what others told him. He is seldom clear about what he considers to be the source of any particular idea.




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      • cheito
        cheito  February 12, 2018

        HistoricalChristianity:

        Your Comment:

        Not directly from Jesus, but from mystical dreams and visions that he thinks are providing truth about Jesus. Also from what others told him. He is seldom clear about what he considers to be the source of any particular idea.

        My Comment:

        The problem with your hypothesis is that Paul himself in Galatians 1:11 clearly states, that the source of the message he preached was Jesus Himself.

        Paul also clearly testifies in 1 Corinthians 15:8, that Jesus appeared to him in the same manner that Jesus appeared to the other apostles.

        Paul uses the word ‘appeared’ and doesn’t say that Jesus ‘appeared’ to him in a dream or a vision.

        I think Paul means, that Jesus literally ‘appeared’ to him in person, as he had also appeared to 500 other persons at one time, some of which were still alive when Paul wrote 1st Corinthians.

        You may choose not to believe Paul, but you’re not allowed to change Paul’s message, because then, it’s your own message and not Paul’s.

        There are other verses in Paul’s undisputed letters, that unambiguously state that Paul clearly taught, that the Gospel which he preached was literally the Gospel that Jesus Himself taught him.

        In other words Paul’s words are indeed the words of God and Jesus. I also mention God, because everything that Jesus taught Paul, was also what God the father taught Jesus.

        _______________________________________

        Galatians 1:11-For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.

        1 Corinthians 15:8-and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also




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        • HistoricalChristianity  February 15, 2018

          No, Paul interacted in-person with many people. He never says any of them ‘appeared to him’. The term is used for a dream or vision. Yes, Paul claims that in Galatians 1, just after he invokes a curse or a spell on anyone with a version different from his. But he tells different stories in other places. He obviously heard something from earlier Christians, since he said he persecuted them. He passes on earlier creeds in 1 Cor 15 and Phil 2:5-11.




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          • cheito
            cheito  February 17, 2018

            HistoricalChristianity

            Your Comment:

            No, Paul interacted in-person with many people. He never says any of them ‘appeared to him’. The term is used for a dream or vision. Yes, Paul claims that in Galatians 1, just after he invokes a curse or a spell on anyone with a version different from his. But he tells different stories in other places. He obviously heard something from earlier Christians, since he said he persecuted them. He passes on earlier creeds in 1 Cor 15 and Phil 2:5-11.

            _______________________________________________

            My Comment:

            One of the definitions of the word, ‘appeared’ is to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown. Considering this definition of ‘appeared’, I don’t think Paul would say, that, Peter, ‘appeared to him.

            I think in 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul is using the term, ‘appeared”, in the literal sense of the word.
            It makes more sense to interpret it literally, because Paul says that Jesus also appeared to more than 500 persons at one time.

            Note that Paul says, at one time.

            Unless the appearance of Jesus to those five hundred individuals at one time was a bogus witness, or that other persons, o a person, wanted, as a deliberate hoax, those 500 people to see Jesus, so that the appearance of Jesus to the 500 persons was a staged event, what are the odds that 500 individuals would literally see the resurrected Jesus, at the same time? Unless it was really the resurrected Jesus that they saw?

            I don’t believe 500 people, at the same time, had a ‘VISION’ of Jesus. I believe five hundred individuals, at the same time, actually and literally saw Jesus!

            Jesus was dead! Why would 500 individuals, simultaneously, have a vision of a dead man?

            It only makes more sense to me that 500 people actually saw Jesus, and that Jesus did rise from the dead, literally, in his person, and appeared to the five hundred and to the rest of the apostles. I believe Paul is telling the truth!

            As for your statement that Paul ‘tells different stories in other places’. I don’t know what you mean? What different stories? What other places are you referring to?
            _____________________________________________________

            I’d like to point out that In Galatians 1:8, Paul clearly says to the Galatians, that ‘an angel from heaven’ could very well preach a different Gospel to them. Paul doesn’t say to the Galatians that a VISION of an angel from heaven would PREACH a different Gospel to them.

            The Gospel Paul preached, was taught to him by Jesus Himself and not by a vision of Jesus.

            In other words, Paul was speaking literally.

            ___________________________________________________________

            Galatians 1:8

            Galatians 1:8-But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.
            _________________________________________________

            In Philippians 2:8,10, 11, Paul believes that Jesus existed before in heaven in a glorified form but ‘appeared’ as a man and submitted himself to be killed and crucified.

            Note that Paul uses the word “appearance’ to describe Jesus’ incarnation.

            Paul also believed that there are beings in heaven, who also acknowledge the sovereignty of Jesus and Jesus’ role in representing God’s glory.

            _______________________________________________

            Philippians 2 :8,10,11

            8-And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

            10-that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,

            11-and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

            _______________________________________




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          • HistoricalChristianity  February 19, 2018

            I am replying to cheito, which I can’t seem to do directly.

            You gave a reasonable definition of one meaning of the English word. Paul never used the English word. In Phil 2:8, Paul used morphe (form, shape). In 1 Cor 15:6, Paul used optanomai (appeared, was seen). Paul wasn’t a witness to that. Someone told him that it happened. That someone could well have been lying, fabricating, exaggerating, misunderstanding, or whatever. Or they were passing on legend.

            In Galatians 1:8, Paul is claiming ultimate authority for truth. Paul is claiming that his philosophy, his worldview, his gospel is truth. Even if God disagrees with Paul, Paul is true. I’m willing to concede that Paul is using hyperbole rather than claiming he is an authority higher than God.




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    • barryjones  February 15, 2018

      Paul admitted that he would lie about his true theological convictions if he thought doing so would gain him more converts, not much different from the Texas-hating politician who, during a rally in Texas, extols the virtues of Texas.

      19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.
      20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law;
      21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law.
      22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22 NAU)

      I’ve been asking fundies for years how Paul could believe himself free from the law, pretend in the company of Jews that he believed himself to be under the law (v. 20), and do all this without giving a false impression of his true theological convictions to the Jews. So far, nobody has provided a compelling answer.

      One idiot said Paul’s circumcising Timothy “because of the Jews” (Acts 16:3) while not believing the act to have any divine significance, is comparable to your consenting to take off your shoes when entering a traditional Japanese household, despite the family knowing perfectly well that you don’t follow this practice yourself.

      There are two problems: a) James seems to think in Acts 21:17-24 that Paul “keeps the law” with all sincerity, which can hardly be reconciled with Paul’s honest opinion that his own circumcision counts as nothing more than dung (Philippians 3:8); b) James’s proposal would, if followed, create the reasonable impression among the Christian Jews that Paul wasn’t just politely allowing their scruples, but that Paul himself agreed with their opinion that such rituals retained their divine significance, when of course Paul doesn’t think such Mosaic ceremonies were doing anything more than wasting away (Hebrews 8:13).

      Unfortunately, Paul’s accommodation of the Jewish view was far more serious than the modern practice of taking off your shoes in a traditional Japanese household despite the Asian family knowing that you yourself don’t follow that practice in your own personal life. James in Acts 21 has a plan clearly intended to convince the Jews that Paul himself also follows the law to the same extent they do, and not just when he is in Jerusalem.

      Therefore, Paul’s comments in 1st Cor. 9 about becoming a Jew to a Jew, are meant in the literal way that would indeed cause him to be a genuine hypocrite and liar. (By the way, the rumor about Paul in Acts 21:21 is true. Galatians 5:2).

      With the Holy Spirit running around back in those magical miracle days, sure is funny that God couldn’t accomplish what He wanted with Paul unless Paul employed psychological tricks that even non-Christians use to wear down a customer’s resistance to a sales-pitch. We don’t find Peter accommodating any Jewish scruples in Acts 2, and yet Peter’s theologically truthful message was sufficient to break through whatever cognitive biases they had and successfully motivate them to repent and believe a gospel that, under their Jewish beliefs, constituted a blasphemous scandal started by a death-deserving idolater named Jesus.

      Perhaps Paul employs psychological tricks because there was no Holy Spirit involved in his evangelism in the first place. And yet the more naturalistic persuasion methods you employ, the more your actions conflict with your profession that the Holy Spirit is solely responsible to convict the world of sin.




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 16, 2018

        In 1 Cor 9, I’m willing to give Paul the benefit of the doubt for honesty, though not necessarily for the clearest thinking. He would argue to Jews that Torah obedience was no longer necessary, and no longer sufficient, since it was no longer acceptable to God. Gentiles don’t obey Torah, so they wouldn’t care about that. But they would care about offering sacrifices. Paul would try to convince them that sacrifices were no longer necessary. Worse, they would now become an insult to God. Paul would not require a Gentile convert to Christianity to be circumcised. He would say it’s worse than useless. It’s proof that you were choosing to submit to Mosaic Law instead of the Christianity. If you believed in the universal sacrifice of Jesus, you wouldn’t be circumcised or offer sacrifices.




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  35. caesar  February 1, 2018

    How do conservative scholars respond to this problem? I can understand a layperson making excuses, but I just don’t see how a scholar can miss the obvious point here.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 2, 2018

      It’s amazing what you can reconcile if you put your mind to it!




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      • barryjones  February 15, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman,

        One wonders whether a skeptical book on how to suppress our many “cognitive biases” is in order, since it is those biases that are the things Christians and others force all evidence through. I think Carrier has something to say about this in one of his books.

        Then again, one could argue that the practical benefits of choosing a direction in life and not substantially deviating from it, justify a bit of closed-mindedness. Sometimes holding the family together is more important that making objective decisions about philosophical issues. Mormonism might be the only thing keeping junior from shooting heroin. On balance, believing in a fraud like Mormonism is probably a lesser evil than junior’s getting addicted to heroin would be.




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  36. Iskander Robertson  February 4, 2018

    some apologists have said that jesus went through a transition.

    if mark was writing after the transition and knew that jesus knew that the law does not help you get to heaven, why would mark has written

    He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money[a] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

    do you think “follow me” is an addition ? how can one thing be two things ?

    22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

    but we see the following

    Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

    so it was not difficult for peter to give up what little he had and follow jesus?

    is the jesus in mark, anti rich?

    at that time peter was following jesus, he could not have known about any transition , he probably thought “follow” means to accept jesus as a teacher and at same time to obey the law

    is this correct?




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  37. barryjones  February 13, 2018

    There’s a very simple justification for calling Paul a heretic.

    The resurrected Jesus is the one who allegedly said the teachings he gave the original disciples were those they must teach future Gentile followers to “obey”:

    teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20 NAU, and that the disciples were ‘amazingly transformed’ by this resurrected Jesus is negated in Galatians 2:9 where Paul says they allocated the entire Gentile ministry to him, and they were choosing to limited themselves solely to Jew-evangelism, and indeed, if Luke is correct in quoting James in Acts 21:20, there were multiple “thousands” of Jews in Jerusalem who converted to the gospel).

    No Christian apologist or scholar can point to a place in the NT where Paul taught Gentiles to obey ALL things which Jesus had commanded of the original disciples. That holds true despite absurdly trifling references to the last supper (1st Corinthians 11:23), and the possible but unlikely quotation from Luke 10:7 in 1st Timothy 5:18.

    No, such abbreviated echos cannot bring Paul into conformity to what Jesus said: Matthew’s author clearly displays what he understood Matthew 28:20 to mean, it meant to convey the actual words and deeds of Jesus (and so Matthew’s author provides more than 25 chapter of just such material), and apostle Paul clearly doesn’t get near teaching Gentiles to obey the lessons from the actual words and deeds of Jesus as Matthew does.

    Under Matthew 28:20, Paul’s abbreviated form of the gospel (Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose again the third day according to the scriptures, 1st Cor. 15) is errantly oversimplified. Paul went further with the Corinthians and, based on their immaturity, had determined to know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified (2:2), when in fact under Matthew 28:20, the cure for a spiritually immature church is to compel them to obey all that Jesus taught. My advice would be that Paul be a bit more discerning, and not assume that ridiculously sinful people are genuine converts.

    Nothing could be clearer than that Paul’s Gentile gospel conflicts with the gospel to the Gentile gospel that Matthew’s author himself preached. In the immediate context, the righteousness that Jesus said the disciples must possession conditional to entering the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:17-21) is personal righteousness gained by observing both letter and spirit of the Law, and as such, cannot be reconciled with Paul’s “righteousness by faith” crap in Romans.

    One also wonders: Jesus is the ultimate authority on the gospel, so why didn’t Paul feel comfortable citing to Jesus’ teachings to ground his justification-by-faith doctrine?




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 16, 2018

      Sorry, the author of Luke already published an explanation for that. In Luke 24, the author explains that the disciples didn’t understand Christianity until ‘their eyes were opened’ mystically. That of course was after the death of Jesus, and out of sight of any objective witnesses.

      The synoptic authors paint a picture of what the public would have observed. A backwoods sage of Second Temple Judaism, beginning as a disciple of John the Baptist, but spending most of his time teaching what Hillel would have taught.

      Paul is the ultimate authority (primary source) on the gospel according to Paul. I remain unconvinced that we can discern the source for any particular idea of Paul. It’s an unknown mixture of things other people told him, things he thought Jesus told him in dreams and visions, and things he invented himself. We have limited writings by and about other variants of early Christianity, but I don’t think we can reliably date them to be before or after Paul.

      Paul predates Matthew by probably 3 decades. Paul’s wasn’t oversimplified, but the opposite. ‘Jesus died for our sins’ (or better, Jesus died as the universal sacrifice) was I think the original idea of Christianity. No god had ever required a sacrificial animal to come back to life. It was enough that the animal die.

      But you’re right. Paul never taught his followers to obey Torah. All he wanted from them was to believe in the universal sacrifice of Jesus (thus don’t offer sacrifices), and follow common morality.




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  38. 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 14, 2018

    This is an excellent question and many have wrestled with it. In recent years I have come to believe that the answer lies primarily in who Jesus is speaking with and who Paul is writing to. Christianity, as we know it, did not exist in either of their lifetimes and to Jews like Jesus and Paul there were only 2 or 3 groups of people: Jews, gentiles, and pagans (in Aramaic: eudah, ammay, and hanpah). Jesus was speaking primarily to the first group (the Jews who already had Torah) while Paul was speaking to the second group (ammay, the nations, or righteous-gentiles that were formerly hanpah, pagans). The first group already has the Oreta and Namosa (Torah or law) but the second group needs a portal, an entry way, and that is through emunah (faith, faithfulness, trust) which comes through Jesus. I believe this at least is a basic difference that must be taken into consideration when comparing Jesus and Paul. Also, at least for a moment in our time of study, we must take away references to Christianity as it developed later. To the orthodox Jew the classifications would be Jew and Noahide. Many, but not all orthodox Jews, would consider trinitarian Christianity as pagan idolatry.




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    • barryjones  February 15, 2018

      1jdefrancisco, you say Jesus “primarily” preached to Jews.

      Did Jesus, at any time between his birth and death, require any of his male Gentile followers to get circumcised, yes or no?




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      • HistoricalChristianity  February 16, 2018

        To clarify, Jesus had no Gentile followers. Any sinner who repented (per John the Baptist) was baptized (to demonstrate his repentance), and by definition agreed to obey Torah. So if he wasn’t already circumcised, he would have to be. He would have to obey Sabbath and kosher and offer the appropriate sacrifices.




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      • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 16, 2018

        Absolutely not. Neither did Paul, James, or other disciples of Jesus UNLESS they converted to Judaism.




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  February 15, 2018

      I know about mamosas but am not familiar with the term “Namosa .” Nor eudah, ammay or hanpah. However, my understanding (from Bart Ehrman’s lectures) is that, before Christianity, “pagan” and “gentile” were both polytheists. Jews still call Christians gentiles even though they are not polytheistic (or are they?). How can you say that Christianity did not exist in Paul’s lifetime? I know some argue about how Jewish the New Testament books are or aren’t. And I know Paul claimed to be a Jew. But his ideas go far beyond the pale of Judaism and into territory everyone identifies as Christian. Jews did not believe in the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death or that one could be saved by believing in the blood, death, and resurrection of Jesus–very Christian teachings that Paul helped get going during his lifetime. Some less than righteous gentiles might have become righteous or more righteous under Paul’s influence but he didn’t go around making sure that his audience consisted of only righteous gentiles. He preached to gentiles….whoever would listen is probably safe to say. In the Jewish point of view, as far as I know, the “second group,” as you call it, did not need “faith, faithfulness, trust” to become righteous or acceptable to God. They needed to live by what came to be known as the seven Noahide Laws.

      Bart has told me in the past that I was defining Christianity too narrowly. I agree with you we must not confuse today’s notions of Christianity with early first century Christianity. But that does not mean that Paul was not a Christian. He might have thought of himself as Jewish but, obviously, almost all Jews rejected both the claim that Jesus was the messiah and they rejected Paul’s teachings about the risen Christ. As muddy as Jewish-Christian distinctions were in the first century, Gentiles, unless they converted to Judaism, considered Paul and his followers and others who believed in the saving power of Christ’s sacrifice to be Christians. Today, just about any religious Jew–not just Orthodox ones–sees the identification of Jesus as God incarnate as idolatrous. As the old joke goes: “Why should we go through a middle man when we can go straight to the top!”




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      • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 16, 2018

        “Namosa” is Syriac Aramaic for Law (compare Greek nomos). Likewise eudah is Aramaic for Judean, ammay for nations or gentiles (compare Hebrew) and hanpah is Aramaic for pagan as distinct from Semites other than Jews.. Not all “gentiles” were polytheists and not all Jews were always monotheists. Jews vary whetherl Christians are polytheistic. None of Jesus’ followers called themselves Christians. This was a prejorative term used twice in the NT. Christianity as a religion came later. All of Jesus and Pauls disciples were either Jews or righteous gentiles. Paul was a Hellenistic Jew and not Judean. It is very easy and common to define Christianity too narrowly. As for Paul’s Judaism see Acts 15-21. Thank you for your comments. I understand your position.




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        • SBrudney091941
          SBrudney091941  February 18, 2018

          Do you really mean Acts, chapters 15 & 16 as a way to better understand Paul’s Judaism? There is so much there that has little to do with it. What do you think it tells us about his Judaism? In your first post above you said that Paul spoke mostly to righteous gentiles. But later you changed “those to whom he spoke to “Paul’s disciples were righteous Christians. Of course, I was commenting on your earlier point: I hardly think we can know that all he spoke to where righteous. And, although you are right that “Christianity, as we know it, did not exist in either of their lifetimes,” primitive Christianity did. I think we can say that because Paul’s higher Christology was certainly not Jewish as I think was also evidenced by hardly any Jews accepting his views. It had enough features of what came to be called Christianity that, even though the word might not have been used yet, we can see that it represented Christian beginnings. On the other hand, I agree that followers of Jesus–certainly in his lifetime–cannot be called Christian. And, if some Jewish followers believed he was the messiah and was resurrected and would return to complete his mission, that would not have been enough reason to call them Christian. I suspect the same sort of disagreements among Jews that we find today existed then–arguments over the question When does a bad Jew become so bad or so far beyond the pale of Jewish belief that he ceases to be Jewish? So even though it might have seemed outrageous to many Jews that some Jews continued to believe Jesus was the messiah even though he’d been crucified, it wasn’t necessarily a serious enough breach of Jewish belief that all Jews would have ceased calling them Jewish. But Paul’s claims claims about the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ death and belief in him being enough to redeem a sinner mostl likely went way too far to most Jews.




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    • HistoricalChristianity  February 16, 2018

      Jesus taught only the Jews. If you weren’t a Jew, you were a Gentile. If you were a God-fearer (Noahide), you were still a Gentile. Like Hillel (but unlike Shammai), Jesus appealed to sinners (non-practicing Jews) and Samaratans (Jews left behind by the Babylonian captivity). Never to Gentiles. He did favors for some, but only as an object lesson to shame Jews.

      Paul was egalitarian in the extreme. He placed onto equal fitting Jew and Gentile, man and woman, slave and free. This made Christianity the ideal religion to unify empire.




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  39. meajon  February 16, 2018

    That there are 138 comments (as of 2/16/2018 @8:48 CST) about what God/Jesus/Holy Spirit said is yet additional evidence, for me, that Christianity is false. Granted, as an intellectual exercise, it’s hard to beat. Even those of us who don’t read Greek can play. Not as well as Dr. Ehrman but we can play. Same holds true for philosophy. The only issue there is: Can you read? Same here. Physics, biology, cosmology, real science, not so much – even not at all really. But, of course, we try, and biologists use/confirm Darwin’s theory 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, and we still doubt. But religion and philosophy are the playgrounds for ordinary folk – and so it goes. And of course I’ll still play because there is no barrier to entry. Not as well as Dr. Ehrman, of course, but he’s willing to put up with it, and he’s kind to do so. Just got the new book, btw. Looks like more grist for the mill.




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    • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 16, 2018

      I just started reading the new book and it is looking very good and very appropriate for our contemporary world situation. Thank you Bart.




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