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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.


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?



  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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

        • 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?

          • 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.

        • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

          Absolutely right!

      • 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.

    • Ignatius  June 9, 2018

      I was just thinking about this. When it became evident that the jews were not going to be receptive to the Jesus as Messiah narrative, rather than giving up, Paul crafted his message for the Gentiles. They were receptive because it simplified their lives. Why try to keep many unpredictable god’s happy when all you had to do was declare your allegiance to one god one time and you were good, not just for the rest of your life but for eternity. Pretty smart marketing move.

      • barryjones  June 11, 2018

        I wonder if Paul would stand by his claims that the Jews rejected Christ, if he knew about all those canonical gospel references which state that Jesus wowed large crowds with his allegedly genuine miracles. If the Jews rejected Christ, that testifies that people in the first century were just brick stupid, sort of like you walking away from your church after your pastor magically converts a bag of groceries into enough to feed 5,000 people.

  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.

    • 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.

  3. Judith  January 26, 2018

    This is really good, I think.

  4. dragonfly  January 26, 2018

    Will we be getting back to the afterlife soon?

    • 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.

      • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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?

    • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

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

  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).”

    • 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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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?)

      • John1003  February 1, 2018

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

    • falteringfeet  January 28, 2018

      Thats what I was always taught as well.

    • 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.

  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

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

    • Telling
      Telling  January 31, 2018


      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.

      • GBA  March 8, 2018

        Robert Monroe may have mentioned them, if you credit these types of claims, as ‘gifts’ that an earther incarnation brings to their ‘higher self’: Pure experience. However Monroe wasn’t religious.

  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.

    • 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.

    • 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

    • 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.

      • 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.

  10. Liam Foley
    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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

      • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

        What teachings of Jesus do you think were universally accepted?

        • 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.

    • 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 .

      • 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.

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

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

      • 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.

        • 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.

  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.

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

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

      • HistoricalChristianity  February 9, 2018

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

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

          • SBrudney091941
            SBrudney091941  February 19, 2018

            Except that he doesn’t say they were Christians.

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

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

  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?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2018

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

      • Tony  January 28, 2018

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

      • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

      • Telling
        Telling  January 28, 2018


        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?

        • 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.

          • 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?

          • 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.

          • 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.

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2018

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

          • 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?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2018

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

          • Telling
            Telling  February 1, 2018


            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?

          • 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 ?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 4, 2018

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

          • llamensdor  February 15, 2018

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

          • Bart
            Bart  February 16, 2018

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

    • 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.

      • 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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

    • 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?


      • 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.

        • 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.

  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’?

  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.

    • 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)

    • 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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