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Brothers of Jesus and the Mythicists


Since you’ve brought up the subject of Jesus’ family perhaps it won’t be too far off the subject to ask this question.

Mythicists are forced by their arguments to deal with Paul’s encounter with Peter and James in Galatians 1:18–20. They claim that when Paul refers to James as “The Lord’s brother” he does not mean that James is Jesus’ biological brother (which of course would mean that Jesus actually lived) but that he was using the word “brother” in the sense that all the disciples were “brothers” i.e., metaphorically.

What about this? Is the word translated as “brother” in English that ambiguous in the original Greek? Can it be other than a biological relationship? Elsewhere I believe Paul uses the word “brothers” to describe fellow believers. Does he use the same Greek word?

Thanks for the clarification.




Great question! I’ve dealt with the issue in my book Did Jesus Exist. I think this is one of the real deal-breakers for the mythicist position – that Paul was personally acquainted with Jesus’ own brother. (There are a number of other deal-breakers as well; but this is a good one.) What follows is what I discuss in my book about the issue. At this point of the book I have just finished talking about how Paul also knew Jesus’ right-hand man, Peter, another big problem if Jesus never existed! Then I start talking about the brothers, as follows:


Even more telling is the much noted fact that Paul claims that he met with, and therefore personally knew, Jesus’ own brother James. It is true that Paul calls him the “brother of the Lord,” not “the brother of Jesus.” But that means very little, since Paul typically calls Jesus the Lord and rarely uses the name Jesus (without adding “Christ,” or other titles). And so, In the letter to the Galatians Paul states as clearly as possible that he knew Jesus’ brother. Can we get any closer to an eyewitness report than this? The fact that Paul knew Jesus’ closest disciple and his own brother throws a real monkey wrench into the mythicist view that Jesus never lived.


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Jesus’ Brother and the Mythicists (Part 2)
Jesus’ Brothers?!? And the Proto-Gospel of James



  1. Avatar
    dennis  October 23, 2013

    I can see ( barely ) why the mythicists might think the words of Jesus Movement members somewhat foggy , but what about the account of the ” extra-judicial ” murder of James ” the brother of Jesus ” found in Josephus ? He matter of factly cites Jesus to clarify which James he is talking about . No ” alleged ” , no ” some say ” ; he presupposes , as a near contemporary , the physical existence of the person referred to .

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 24, 2013

      They claim that those are interpolations in the text of Josephus by Christian scribes. (They’ve thought of everything!)

      • Avatar
        KungFuJoe  October 24, 2013

        Richard Carrier’s one piece of published, peer-reviewed work in this area of study is actually quite convincing, regarding the “James” mentioned by Josephus in the Minor Testimony. I disagree with a great deal– if not the majority– of Carrier’s work on the historicity of Jesus, but this is one area where I do agree with him.

        I recommend the article, for anyone who hasn’t read it.

        “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200” published in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012,
pp. 489–-514).

        • Avatar
          TimONeill  October 25, 2013

          “Richard Carrier’s one piece of published, peer-reviewed work in this area of study is actually quite convincing,”

          Or creaking and contrived. It’s riddled with problems. To begin with, for the Jesus at XX.9.1 to be the same person as the later mentioned high priest “Jesus, son of Damneus”, we have to believe that Ananus executed this son of Damneus’ brother and then very soon afterwards uses rich gifts so he “cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest”. So we’re supposed to believe that within months of seeing Ananus kill his brother, the son of Damneus was cosying up to his brother’s murderer thanks to some gifts? This makes no sense.

          Then there’s the fact that dismissing the phrase “who was called Messiah” as a marginal gloss that found its way into the body of the text doesn’t go far enough to explain the textus receptus. Josephus is very consistent in the way he introduces new actors to his narrative and in the way he differentiates one from another. Nowhere does he introduce a person simply by their name (“Jesus”, minus the Messiah part) and then refer to them by an identifying appellation later (“Jesus, son of Damneus”). Yet that’s what Carrier’s contrived ad hoc work around requires.

          Finally there’s his blithe dismissal of the three verbatim quotes of the key “Jesus who was called Messiah” phrase by Origen on the grounds that Origen was somehow confusing Josephus with Heggisipus. Carrier claims this by saying what Origen claims Josephus “says” about the death of James can’t actually be found in Josephus. But Origen was an exegete, not a historian, and often claims his sources “say” things that aren’t there: he reads his exegesis into his material. Reading the passages in Josephus following Ant. XX.9.1 in this light shows how Origen definitely could have read the trope of “the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the execution of James” into the text, as detailed by Waturu Mizagaki, “Origen and Josephus” in *Josephus, Judaism and Christianity* (L.H. Feldman, G. Hata eds, Wayne State University Press, 1987) pp. 325-337). Oddly for a peer reviewed article, neither this key piece of research on Origen’s use of Josephus nor Feldman and Hata’s highly relevant collection of articles is anywhere to be found in Carrier’s footnotes.

          Carrier is a polemicist and this article shows it. And his final paragraphs where he pompously declares that all future discussion on the topic must now bow before his mighty findings are are hilarious as they are fatuous.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  October 27, 2013

            Terrific comments!! Many thanks.

          • AoSS
            AoSS  May 3, 2016

            I am posting this now due to a reason listed below.

            I am not the absolute biggest fan of Dr. Carrier. There are some things he has said which I agree with and many that I do not. However, unlike what Dr. Ehrman said, this is not a “terrific comment”. It shows, fundamentally, that Tim has not read Carrier’s article or is simply strawmanning it. This does not mean that Dr. Carrier is correct in the article, just that this response by Tim is horrible.

            Richard Carrier has somewhat recently responded to this comment on his blog here:

            I do not think that his language usage is the best, but I do think that he does point out exactly why Tim is wrong here.
            I do think that the article is worth a read (there are free ways to read it, though I won’t mention any here).

          • Avatar
            Tim  July 6, 2016

            Carrier is right about the argument I make about Ananus above, though I acknowledged and corrected that elsewhere a year ago, so that’s a pretty petty gotcha. But he is wrong in his other arguments, as I detail here:


        • Avatar
          willow  December 15, 2013

          Thanks, KungFuJoe. I’m going there now.

  2. Avatar
    hwl  October 23, 2013

    Has Robert Price ever published in reputable journals of biblical studies?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 24, 2013

      That’s a great question! I believe he did early in his career, but I don’t know whether he has after becoming a mythicist.

      • Avatar
        sleonard  November 8, 2013

        Here is Robert M. Price’s list of published articles from his website:


        > Has Robert Price ever published in reputable journals of biblical studies?

        Based on that list, I would say the answer is “yes.”

        > but I don’t know whether he has after becoming a mythicist.

        Not sure when he became a mythicist…

  3. Avatar
    gavriel  October 23, 2013

    You refer to Josephus as an independent attestation of James as the brother of Jesus. Have you read Carriers claim, that it probably is an interpolation and that originally “It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.” ? Any comment?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 24, 2013

      Yes, I have. I don’t find it convincing. I’d be interested to know if there’s a Josephus scholar on the planet who does. That’d be worth knowing!

      • Avatar
        gavriel  October 24, 2013

        Historically, there was. Millar and Vermes’ revision of Schürer lists 4 great scholars from before roughly a hundred years ago (Vol I, p 430, note 1).

        I’ve spent some time debating this issue with mythicists and on his web site Carrier refers to his peer-reviewed article in Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012), heralding it as “My proof of that is pretty conclusive”. I was therefor interested in the scholarly reception of this article, which I have been unable to retrieve.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 25, 2013

          I actually haven’t heard any scholarly buzz about it — so I’m not *sure*how it is being reviewed. It is a very fine journal. But that doesn’t mean that everything published in it is widley understood to be “right”!!

        • Avatar
          Tim  August 16, 2016

          Carrier’s article has been out for two years and has been cited by absolutely no-one. He seems to have convinced no-one in the field. That should tell you something.

  4. Avatar
    JoeWallack  October 24, 2013

    The most natural reading of Galatians 1 is that James was Jesus’ biological brother. But it is not “clear”:

    1) Jesus is not named.

    2) The identification lacks scope.

    3) “Brother” has known figurative use in religious context.

    4) Paul is not a credible witness.

    5) Transmission had motive and opportunity to move the original towards what is extant.

    It is evidence for HJ and there is nothing there for MJ so HJ is preferred, it’s just not proven.

    The context of Galatians 1 specifically (and Paul generally) is that spirit witness is greater than flesh witness. So Paul’s ID of James here as the flesh brother of Jesus could have been meant as insult which would be consistent with the theme of Paul here and overall (context supports HJ too).


    • Avatar
      TimONeill  October 24, 2013

      “1) Jesus is not named.”

      So who is this guy that Paul repeatedly refers to as “the Lord”? In other contexts it seems pretty clear it’s Jesus, so who is it here?

      “2) The identification lacks scope.”

      What does that mean?

      “3) “Brother” has known figurative use in religious context.”

      Using a different formulation. Elsewhere in the Pauline corpus he refers generally to “brothers IN the Lord”, but here and in one other place the form is “brother/s OF the Lord”. In both cases where he uses this formulation he makes it clear these “”brother/s OF the Lord” are distinct from other believers and so it is not a term for believers generally. This leaves the Mythers with a thorny problem – either they have to resort to supposition and claim there was an otherwise unattested sub-group of believers who were the “brothers of the Lord” but NOT actual siblings of Jesus or they have to admit these “brothers” were just that – brothers of a historical Jesus. They are forced to resort to the former, and Occam’s Razor is waiting for them.

      “4) Paul is not a credible witness.”

      Paul is not a “credible witness” when he admits to meeting Peter and James, despite the fact this undercuts the argument he is making? How does that work?

      “5) Transmission had motive and opportunity to move the original towards what is extant.”

      So the reference to meeting Peter and James was added by an interpolator, despite the fact it undermines the point Paul is making? Why on earth would an interpolator do such a strange thing?

      These objections are incoherent. The standard reading of the passage IS clear.

  5. Avatar
    toejam  October 24, 2013

    I think the hypothesis that Paul did in fact know James – the actual brother of Jesus – makes the most sense of the data. And I agree that it is a good uppercut to the mythicist position (if not a definitive knockout!). I can’t bring myself to say that Jesus “certainly” existed, but I definitely lean more towards the idea that he did.

    Carrier has a new book coming out sometime next year which is supposed to be a more fleshed out and scholarly referenced defence of his Wellsian/Dohertian-inspired hypothesis. He’s already announced that in the book he concludes that the probability of Jesus’ historical existence can be no more than 1 in 3. He personally thinks it’s more like 1 in 12,000!! Both those figures sound ridiculous to me. But it will be interesting to see how he goes about numerating all the data. Would you be open to reviewing his book when it comes out?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 24, 2013

      Not 1 in 11,750? or 1 in 12,345? Gotta love that numbers game….

      • Avatar
        Fearthemunky  October 28, 2013

        That’s really too bad. I mean, you actually took the time to write a book on this very issue. All the personal stuff to the side, how could you not want to at least take on the very best case on offer and offer criticism of it? Debunking Achayra S. and the Atwills of the world is great but it’s low hanging fruit. You don’t need me to tell you RC isn’t on that level, and most of us do not have the tools to properly criticize his book.

        If you end up ignoring his book then it makes ‘Did Jesus Exist’ feel incomplete, like Star Wars ending without us finding out whether or not Luke turned to the Dark Side…or the original ending in Mark.

        You have to do it! You can’t say it’s beneath you now that you already took the time to publish a book on mythicism. If it turns out to be more of the same pseudo-scholarship then break that down for us once and for all, but if his thesis turns out to be plausible then show your objectivity and be willing to admit to that as well. Wasn’t it once considered preposterous to suggest that people like Moses, David, and Solomon were a-historical, and just a few decades later it’s the consensus view in scholarship?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 29, 2013

          I’ve moved on to other — more productive things! I simply don’t have time to keep up with these (unproductive and often rather silly) debates.

        • Avatar
          TimONeill  October 31, 2013

          R. Joseph Hoffmann went to the effort of critiquing Carrier’s attempt to use Bayes Theorem to analyse history in a series of posts on The New Oxonian last year:


          Like everyone else, he pinpointed the main flaw – Carrier’s weighting of the parameters are driven by his assumptions and biases (and his biases are what cripple all of Carrier’s attempts at scholarship – the guy is a polemicist).

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 24, 2013

    With regard to “mythicism,” if Moses lived about 1500 B.C.E. and David about 1000 B.C.E., and the first parts of the Old Testament were not written until about 800 B.C.E., there was a lot of time for history to recede and for legend to develop before the Old Testament books were written. Hence, do scholars think that prominent Bible characters like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Samuel, Saul, Solomon, and so on and so forth actually existed?
    With you help, I have learned a lot about Bible texts. I now know that there are over 5,000 existing New Testament uncials and minuscules and some about the differences in these texts. I also know that, since Jewish scribes buried old copies of the Hebrew Bible after making new copies, the ancient copies of the Hebrew Bible consist of the Dead Sea scrolls and the much later Leningrad Codex. When did Christians start combining the Old and New Testaments together and start copying them as one codex or one book?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 24, 2013

      Scholars are divided on the existence of many of the great figures of Israel. I myself don’t believe there was a historical Abraham, Moses, or Joshua, for example (or if they *did* exist they were basically nothing like the figures described in the Hebrew Bible). But there is some historical evidence for David.

      The first Christian Bibles that contain both OT and NT are in fact our earliest complete NT Bibles — e.g., codex Sinaiticus in the mid 4th century.

      • Avatar
        RonaldTaska  October 25, 2013

        Thanks so much for your response. I had gotten confused because I had in my mind that the Leningrad Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls were the only copies of the Old Testament before about 1010 C.E. Then, reading about Codex Sinaiticus, I saw that it also contained books of the Old Testament so that meant that there are other ancient copies of the Old Testament besides the Leningrad Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls. So, I guess there were two traditions for copying the Old Testament one among Jews and one among Christians. I wonder if there were many copying differences between the two traditions?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 25, 2013

          Yes, different copying practices. Christians had nothing *like* the rigorous rules and standards that developed among Jews, oddly enough!

  7. Avatar
    KungFuJoe  October 24, 2013

    I’ve been butting up against the mythicist understanding of Paul’s “brother(s) of the Lord” statements for a bit, now. While I haven’t yet done an exhaustive reading of all Paul’s uses of “brother,” it looks like every time he uses the phrase to mean “believers” or “spiritual” brothers, he does so with the implication that those being referenced are HIS brothers. He is either addressing them directly as “brothers” or else he explicitly refers to them as “our brothers” or “my brother” or the like.

    It seems quite dubious that Paul would specifically single out some persons as being spiritual brothers of Jesus, but not of all other believers.

  8. Avatar
    fishician  October 24, 2013

    John 7:5 “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” Obviously these were not “metaphorical” brothers – they were not even believers!

    • Avatar
      willow  December 15, 2013

      As I am rather new to the blog, and trying hard to read near all there is, as well as to research so much of what is written by those who know so much more than I can possibly hope to ever know (which is why I so love this blog) please forgive the tardiness of my comments.

      Regarding John 7:5: I’ve always found this to be a rather interesting passage. His own brothers didn’t believe “in” him? How so? What, exactly, was it they didn’t believe?

      They were his brothers. Flesh and blood brothers. I’ve no doubt about that. So, surely they knew him. So what was it, if not this “knowing”, that hindered them in their belief that he was (I am assuming) “THE” Messiah/Ha Mashiach, rather than just any other former messiah, called forth and anointed for a particular purpose, such as was, say, King Cyrus?

      Might it not have been Paul’s assertions/influences that influenced the writer of this passage in John? Paul despised James, and we have no reason to believe he felt differently about the other brothers of Jesus. It would have served Paul’s purposes well to have separated the brothers of Jesus, James in particular, who didn’t believe as it was that Paul did and was teaching, from Jesus, which is reflected all the more blatantly in Mathew 12:48: “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?”

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  December 15, 2013

        My sense is that John is recording the fact found in otehr passages that Jesus was not a remarkable youth or young man, and that his later influence took all who knew him by surprise.

  9. Avatar
    David Chumney  October 24, 2013

    Like Price, Wells does recognize the weakness of that argument. In his book The Historical Evidence for Jesus [1988], Wells acknowledges that “the plain sense of [the] text” does not support the reading he has proposed. Indeed, he freely admits, “If Paul means [a] blood brother of…Jesus, then it would suffice to establish–against my view–that Jesus…really lived in the first half of the first century” (167).

    In his more recent works (those published after 1995), Wells accepts the historicity of Jesus; however, he would still not be comfortable with the summary of Jesus you offer in Did Jesus Exist?

    If anyone is interested in Wells’ arguments, a good place to start would be his most recent book, Cutting Jesus Down to Size (Prometheus, 2009).

  10. Avatar
    Peter  October 24, 2013

    The passage from Corinthians is very interesting.

    I’m surprise I haven’t heard its being referred to during debates about clerical celibacy in the Catholic Church.

  11. Avatar
    PersephoneK  October 24, 2013

    Can you speak to the argument opponents often throw out there that you cannot use the bible itself as a reputable source, thus the only real proof of Jesus (critics also dismiss the evidence from Josephus and Tacitus) is from the bible and aka not reputable? I was savaged in a recent blog of mine where I tried to use those 3 pieces of evidence to support the existence of Jesus.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 25, 2013

      It’s a bogus argument. I deal with it in my book Did Jesus Exist, and you may want to see what I say there. For now: the writers whose works eventually were made into the Bible didn’t know they were writing Scripture!!! They were just writing books. It doesn’t make any sense to say that they should be considered in any different category from other books written at the time simply because hundreds of years later someone said “Hey — those books are the Bible!”

      • Avatar
        judaswasjames  November 11, 2013

        Oh, yes it does. The NT is early-church polemic. It is fable. You have to deal with these two items, if not the sketchy, tenuous “brother of the Lord” item:
        Eisenman points out >
        1) Luke’s Acts 8 is an antiSemitic, tendentious, ribald, parody remake of Josephus Antiquities Book XX, chapter 2 — Queen Helen and Izates’ conversion to JUDAISM, complete with a circumcision that morphs into a ‘castration’ — of all things — of the Lukan Queen Candace’s Eunuch, who is supposedly converting to Christianity! The scripture being read is not Genesis 17 as in Josephus, speaking of circumcising all of Abraham’s household (and guests), but Isaiah 53, of all things. Now, you may guffaw and ahem, and squirm all you want, Bart, but this is mockery and nothing more. Luke is not a chronicler, he is a prankster.

        2) Hegesippus (via Eusebius). Hegesippus is at least as early as the synoptics because of these two quotes> “Father forgive them …” and “You will see the Son of man coming with Poser on the clouds of heaven” (Luke 23:34 also Acts 7:60, and Mark 14:62/Matt. 26:64/Luke 22:69), spoken by JAMES. >

        http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html (quotes of James, end of paragraphs four and five)

        Why are these famous quotes first registered as coming from James, *and then* Jesus — if Jesus was real? Even early church sources record James as the heir to Jesus’ ministry. It shows in Acts 1 upon careful examination. Judas falls “headlong” to his death (a second time. Matthew has him hanging.) This is Clement’s exact wording in Pseudoclementine Rec., LXX, for the death of JAMES. More Lukan cleverness: “Joseph BARSABBAS JUSTus” (1:23) for James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus). No apostle held “office” (1:20). That’s the bishoprick, or episcopate of the Jerusalem Assembly. There’s your answer as to who was zealous in Jerusalem — James the Just! >

        “And what evidence does Wells cite for such a group of zealous messianic Jews in Jerusalem that separated themselves off from all the other Jerusalem Christians? None. At all. What evidence could there be? No such group is mentioned in any surviving source of any kind whatsoever. Wells (or his predecessor Robinson) has made it up.”

        And you still have a ‘boatload’ (your term of choice) of inconsistencies like John 1:45 that says Jesus was son of Joseph, unlike the Matthean virgin birth narrative. The replay of Old Testament stories like Moses feeding the wandering followers manna and parting the Sea, with Jesus feeding the multitudes and walking on water (Spong on John) and the troubles with the many misapplications of OT quotes in support of Jesus make his historicity suspect. Paul not knowing of Judas, and his betrayal occurring right at the point that the successor is chosen (I show ‘Judas’ is definitively James in my book, “The Bible says ‘Saviors’ — Obadiah 1:21”) are further problems for historical Jesus adherents. If a character as central as Judas was fictional, so was Jesus. I’m not the only one to think he was.

        We haven’t even gotten into Paul as Spouter of Lying in the Hab. Pesher, or ‘Judas’ as “sacrifice the man” JAMES in gJudas, “ruling over” the other ‘generations’, and having earlier dreamt that he was STONED TO DEATH by fellow disciples, same as James in Josephus. The infamous ‘kiss’ as positive kiss of spiritual authority in First and Second Apocalypses of James, the bread going to James in Gospel According to the Hebrews, and “I am HE” in John 13:19 for Jesus transferring authority TO JAMES, right after “he has greatly supplanted me” Psalm 41:9/John 13:18 in DRB translation. I cover it all for you in my book, and can do so in detail here when you have the courage to face it.

  12. Avatar
    gavm  October 28, 2013

    Prof Ehrman Bill Craig strongly argues that James wasnt originally a follower of Jesus but converted after his death. he also argues that he died for his Christian beliefs (as indicated by Josephus). what do you make of this?
    thank you

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 29, 2013

      Josephus definitely does *not* say that James was martyred for his Christian faith!!!

      • Avatar
        gavm  October 30, 2013

        yes understood.
        i wondered about your thoughts on James originally not being a follower then converting after his death

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 30, 2013

          Yes, I think that’s probably true, and that it’s because he, like Peter, had some sort of vision of Jesus after his death (as people do!),

      • Avatar
        willow  December 15, 2013

        As I understand it, even in light of Josephus, James was and remained to be a faithful Jew who never “converted”. But then, Jesus didn’t convert either, which is to say, if one studies what it was that HE said, omitting from his words all that this one or that one said he said, which would pretty much omit all of the writings of Paul, along with all contradictions, what you’re left with is a Jesus who taught repentance, not sacrifice, obedience to the Law, not escape from it, adherence to the traditions and customs, such as Passover, et al, and over all just getting right and staying right with God. “Go and sin no more.” “If you want to enter into eternal life keep the Commandments”. I find it troubling that Paul’s teachings, oftentimes, cause Jesus to appear the liar.

    • Avatar
      judaswasjames  November 11, 2013


      James died because in 62 CE High Priest Ananus accused and convicted him of blasphemy (Josephus/Hegesippus) for not repudiating Jesus as Lord (Hegesippus), because for him, Jesus *was* Lord, even if not for others not so initiated. One needs a living Master to be initiated (yes, I am). So, Bart is right, it wasn’t Josephus who said he was martyred for his Christian faith — it was Hegesippus!

      “looking for Jesus as the Christ” >

      James did not “convert” after his death. There is no ‘after death conversion’. He was CHOSEN by ‘Jesus’, whoever is meant by that. The canon details it negatively in the ‘Betrayal’, and covered in Acts 1 selection of fictional “Matthias”. I don’t know what it is going to take to get people to appreciate Robert Eisenman. He is the one who pointed us all in the right direction! Without even knowing real Maters, as I do, he said James was one (in so many words: “Who and whatever James was, so was Jesus”).

  13. Avatar
    dostonj  January 29, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman, I read your blog post carefully, but I still have a lingering question about Paul’s use of the word brother – and whether there is any ambiguity in its meaning. You take the position that Paul uses the term to mean “sibling” in the context of 1 Corinthians 9:5. You stated in pertinent part: “when [Paul] speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5, he is differentiating them both from himself and from Cephas. That would make no sense if he meant the term loosely to mean “believers in Jesus,” since he and Cephas too would be in that broader category. And so he means something specific, not something general, about these missionaries.”

    Perhaps I am reading the verse incorrectly, but I respectfully disagree with your rendering of this verse. In 1 Cor. 9:5, Paul also uses the term “apostles” earlier in the verse and then lastly mentions Cephas by name. Based on your argument, the fact that Paul distinguished Cephas from the apostles in this verse must mean that he was differentiating him from the apostles, and thus was not part of that group designation. But we know that can’t be correct. Obviously, Cephas was an apostle. Thus, Paul’s use of the term apostles separate from Cephas does not preclude Cephas being an apostle. Accordingly, we cannot presume that Paul’s use of the phrase “brothers of the Lord” necessarily precludes Paul or Cephas as members of that broader group.

    I think the passage can be read comfortably to mean that Paul is using those specific subgroups (apostles, brothers of the Lord, Cephas) collectively as a proxy for what we call “believers.” The immediate issue that Paul seems to be addressing chapters 8 and 9 is the degree of secular freedom that can be enjoyed by new Christians. And in 1 Cor. 9 verse 5, he’s saying that believing men (e.g., apostles, brothers of the Lord, and even Cephas) can all take a believing wife. If he’s saying that only Jesus’ sibling brothers can take believing wives, then this verse makes little sense to me (especially since those specific individuals have any obvious relevance to Paul’s discussion). A better natural reading in the context of the passage suggests that Paul is talking about the freedoms available to believers in general, whether you have a specific title (apostle) or if you’re just a “brother of the Lord” (regular believer).

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2015

      That’s a *great* question and a very interesting point. An alternative reading is that these are three distinct categories: apostles (those officially commisioned to engage in missionary work); brothers of the Lord (his physical syblings); and Cephas (the leader of the church in Jerusalem). In that reading, Cephas is not technically speaking an apostle, in that he is normally resident in Jerusalem and goes forth from there not to establish churches (so that he is not considered but in order to visit established churches). The problem with *that* view is that it seems to run counter to Galatians 1:18-19. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can follow your reading, since if “brothers of the Lord” simply meant believers, why would he have to point out apostles and Cephas as well…. (He’s not saying that “only” Jesus’ brothers can take along a wife. He’s simply saying that there are two groups — the apostles and Jesus’ sibings — and one individual — Cephas — who take along a wife. But you’re right, it is a puzzle why he isolates Cephas. Reminds me of Mark 16:7, which doesn’t make sense in the same way “the disciples and Peter.”

      • Avatar
        Dirk_Wahlberg  October 17, 2016

        hopefully you will see this and respond seeing as your last comment was well over a year ago.

        Isn’t it possible that Paul refers to James as “the brother of the Lord” because it was a title bestowed upon James to grant him a position of authority? If Jesus was “adopted” as the “son of God,” then is it not possible that James was “adopted” or appointed as the “brother of the Lord”? It is beyond question that the early movement had Paul and others referring to fellow believers as “brothers” and “sisters” when there clearly was not a blood relationship. So there had to be some meaning to this. As a result, it seems quite reasonable, and even likely, that the senior authority of this movement would be considered “the brother of the Lord.”

        I know this is speculation. But this seems plausible to me. It seems rather odd, in my opinion, that Paul knew James personally, that James was the brother of an earthly Jesus, yet Paul never went into any details about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. It really just boggles my mind as to why Paul would have this access to Jesus’ brother but seemingly only be interested in a heavenly Jesus.

        And I recently saw a lecture where you suggested that your book on “How Jesus Became God” reshaped your understanding of how Paul viewed Jesus.

        Do you also believe that Jesus and John the Baptist were “cousins”? Don’t many scholars view that relationship to be contrived?

        • Avatar
          Dirk_Wahlberg  October 17, 2016

          It seems that the early movement used familial relationships in very ambiguous ways:

          1 Corinthians 4:14-17:

          14 I am not writing this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. 16 I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason I sent[c] you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, as I teach them everywhere in every church

        • Bart
          Bart  October 18, 2016

          The problem is that James as the “brother of the Lord” is identified this way to differentiate him from Cephas/Peter, who also was, obviously, extremely close to Jesus as his right hand man. John the Baptist: no, I think that’s a legend started by Luke himself (or his source of information)

          • Avatar
            Dirk_Wahlberg  October 19, 2016

            Bart, if the James that Paul is referring to is a leader or member of a sect known as “the brothers of the Lord,” then it would make sense that he is being identified as “the brother of the Lord” and differentiated from Cephas. As you stated you do not believe Jesus and John the Baptist were truly cousins, but that this was an invention by the author of Luke; so, then, why is it not also possible that James was proclaimed to be “the brother of the Lord” as a means to establish him as an authority figure of fellow believers?

            We have Paul calling fellow believers “brothers” and “sisters,” Paul calling certain people, such as Timothy, his “children,’ and John the Baptist being the “cousin” of Jesus. There are all these examples of people being linked as family when they are not truly related.

            And as I mentioned, it is rather odd that Paul has a personal relationship with a blood brother of Jesus but never discusses Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.

            Also, Louis Feldman, in his work “Josephus, Judaism and Christianity,” on page 335, mentions that Origen believed Paul’s view of James as the “brother of the Lord” to be “based upon the similarity in their beliefs on ethics and teaching RATHER THAN upon any real blood relationship” (emphasis mine).

            So this isn’t just some mythicist view that Paul wasn’t necessarily referring to a “blood” relationship.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 20, 2016

            I”m not aware of any sect called “the brothers of the Lord.”

          • Avatar
            Dirk_Wahlberg  October 20, 2016

            Bart, is it true or not true that the “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 is assumed to be the relatives of Jesus because of the gospels? Also for Galatians where James is called the “brother of the Lord”? If that is true, then we are reading the gospels into the writings of Paul. I think that is a slippery slope because it assumes Paul’s conception of Jesus was that of a man who walked the earth as the gospels describe. When reading Paul as stand alone evidence, there isn’t much of a hint of a Jesus that walked the earth. As mentioned already, this seems odd considering the assumption that James was the brother of Jesus and Paul knew him as well as other individuals who supposedly knew Jesus personally. Again, these are assumptions based on the gospel accounts.

            My contention is that it may be wrong to make these assumptions given the way familial language is used among early believers to connect themselves to each other and to Jesus (John the Baptist being the cousin of Jesus).

            The “brothers of the Lord” could have very well been a sect or group of individuals given that name because they were reported to have seen visions of the Lord after the apostles. Then they were incorporated into the gospel accounts just as John the Baptist was made to be the “cousin” of Jesus.

            In 3 John we even see the use of the phrase “the brothers” multiple times. Although we can’t say for certain what Paul’s meaning was, we shouldn’t be so fast to assume a blood relationship based on other examples we have of how familial language has been used in Christian writings. And based on the fact that Paul’s silence on the life of Jesus is certainly odd IF he had personal relationships with people who knew Jesus personally and were his relatives.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 21, 2016

            No, I would not say that it is assumed because of the Gospels. I would say that it’s because whenever the term “brothers” is used in an unambiguous sense, where it’s meaning is completely obvious, it means one of two things: either (a) people who literally have the same mother and (b) people who are spiritually close to one another. If you think the word means something different from either of these two established meanings in any particular context, you need to have reasons from the text itself — rather than your own biases or opinions — to think that in this text the word does not mean what it always means. (The same is true for all words!)

  14. Avatar
    Dirk_Wahlberg  October 26, 2016

    Bart, first, I would like to say that I greatly appreciate your dialogue on this issue.

    I’ve not made any case that the meaning is not one of the two interpretations you suggest. My point is simply that you are assuming Paul’s intention in calling James the “brother of the Lord” is that it was due to James literally having the same mother as “the Lord.” My point is that Paul’s interpretation could very well have been that James was “the brother of the Lord” due to spiritual reasons.

    As I mentioned above, Louis Feldman stated that this was the belief of Origen concerning Paul’s views. You have not addressed that point.

    There is nothing inherent in the text to tell us that Paul intended to mean that James and Jesus had the same mother. It is an assumption.

    In Hebrews chapter 2 we read: “11 For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters 12 saying,
    “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

    In 1 Corinthians 16:12 we read: “12 Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but he was not at all willing[a] to come now. He will come when he has the opportunity.”

    In Galatians 4 Paul states that God sent his son “so that we might receive adoption as children.” Well, if you are adopted by God, then you are the “brother of the Lord.”

    It is also curious that if Paul knew that James was literally born of the same woman that Jesus was, then why in Galatians does Paul say God sent his son “born of a woman,” rather than identifying who this woman was? Wouldn’t this have been a good time to name who the mother of Jesus was as the gospels do?

    I don’t have any biases here. What I have is very good circumstantial evidence that Paul may very well have had something different in mind when calling James the “brother of the Lord” than a literal “born of the same woman as Jesus” meaning that you seem to think is implied.

    My mere point is that you should be far more skeptical of that interpretation than you apparently are.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 26, 2016

      I don’t think Paul could be saying that James had a spiritual connection with Jesus, making him “the brother of the Lord” because Paul contrasts him with Cephas. That would mean Cephas was not. So too 1 Cor. 9:5: the brothers of the Lord are *contrasted* with Cephas, Apollos, and Paul himself. So the word appears not to mean “spiritual brother” but “actual brother”

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        ftbond  April 18, 2020

        Just looking at all the other references that Paul makes to “brother” or “brothers”: He’ll talk about “Timothy, OUR brother” or “OUR brother Sosthenes”, or “MY brother” or “A brother” or “YOUR brother”. He’s trying to identify the relationship, in all cases. And, it appears to me that that’s exactly what he’s trying to do when he mentions “the brother of the Lord” (or, the brothers of the Lord”): identifying the relationship.

        Yep, I have to agree with Dr Ehrman… James was the familial brother of Jesus.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 19, 2020

          I show in my book Did Jesus Exist why Paul’s statement about “James the brother of the Lord” does *not* mean that he was a brother to Jesus in the way he was a “brother” to, say, those in the Christian faith, but a blood brother.

          • Avatar
            ftbond  April 20, 2020

            ok, dang… now I’m convinced – I’m just gonna have to buy another book of yours… 🙂

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