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How Can Paul Say that Jesus Appeared to “The Twelve”?

Here is an interesting question from my Readers’ Mailbag connected to the tradition that Judas Iscariot killed himself soon after Jesus’ death, leaving only eleven disciples.  Did Paul know about this tradition?  Why does he seem to think there were still twelve disciples after the resurrection?



What do you think about Paul saying that Jesus appeared to the “twelve” (Apostles) after his resurrection? (1 Cor. 15:5) I find this to be a big mistake; given the multiple gospel stories about Judas’s betrayal and subsequent suicide. Wouldn’t Paul have known that there were only eleven Apostles at that time?



Ah, an interesting question, and answering it involves a number of rather unexpected complexities.   The basic question: does Paul know that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and afterward committed suicide?

The first issue to address: who among the authors of the New Testament does know about the suicide of Judas?  Here’s an interesting point.  It is not “multiple” authors.  There is, in fact, only one: the author of Matthew (see 27:5).  Judas’s death is not mentioned in Mark, Luke, or John.

In only one other New Testament book is there any reference to Judas’s death:  Acts 1:18-19.  But this passage doesn’t say anything about …

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  1. Lev
    Lev  June 12, 2017

    Ahh! I’ve always wondered about this. Fab insights Bart – many thanks!

    Apologies for going off-topic, but are you aware of the Nitrian collection (a bunch of Syriac material unearthed in Egyptian monasteries in the 1830s)? Within the collection is a document that purports to be part of Eusebius’ work and is entitled “Concerning the Star; showing how and through what the Magi recognized the Star, and that Joseph did not take Mary as his wife.” There follows a lengthy account of the Magi’s visit to the infant Jesus followed by a comment on how the account was discovered around 119:

    “…in the second year of the coming of our Saviour, in the consulship of Caesar and of Capito, in the month of the latter Kanun, these Magi came from the East and worshipped our Lord at Bethlehem of the kings. And in the year four hundred and thirty (A.D. 119), in the reign of Hadrianus Caesar, in the consulship of Severus and of Fulgus, in the episcopate of Xystus, bishop of the city of Rome, this concern arose in (the minds of) men acquainted with the Holy Books; and through the pains of the great men in various places this history was sought for and found, and written in the tongue of those who took this care.”

    This last part intrigues me most as it seems to be saying that the second chapter of Matthew was “written in” (added?) around the year 119 – in other words, this is when it was added to the Greek Gospel of Matthew (the Gospel of the Hebrews remained without the opening two chapters, presumably they did not care much for this story.)

    What’s even more fascinating is that there is a gap above this text of some “sixteen or seventeen lines of the Syriac text which has been purposely erased, probably on account of some statement which a later reader considered heretical.” (see footnote 45: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_star.htm). As this document was discovered in the 1830s, I wonder if any modern technology could recover any of the erased lines through x-ray or ultraviolet light?

    The erased passage comes after the account of the magi just when the narration turns to Joseph and Mary. The title of the work concerns the Magi and the star and that “Joseph did not take Mary as his wife” – but we do not find any narration of the virginity of Mary. I suspect this is the erased part, and given what follows appears to be an admission that the account of the Magi wasn’t included in the gospel of Matthew until 119 AD, perhaps the erased part admits that the virgin birth narrative found in Chapter 1 was also a late addition to the gospel – hence it’s removal.

    Do you know if scholars have attempted to recover the erased material through modern technology? I think the document is held in the British Library.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Yes, there are very sophisticated multi-spectral imaging technologies today for reading just this kind of manuscript; but I don’t know if they have been applied ot this one in particular.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  June 12, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I was reading the Book of Acts for the umpteenth time when I came to chapter 16 and a question suddenly popped into my head: did Timothy write Acts, and thus “Luke”? The reason I ask is notice that at the start of chapter 16 where Timothy is introduced the author starts to use the first-person plural. Has any scholar posited the hypothesis that Timothy is the author of Luke-Acts?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Some people have argued it. But of course we don’t know anything about Timothy, so even saying he wrote it doesn’t get us too far — except to say that if one of Paul’s companions *did* write it, he was startlingly uniformed about Paul!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 14, 2017

        Or…Paul was lying in his letters.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 15, 2017

          The passages I was thinking of are not ones where Paul is insisting on a controversial point.

          • brandon284  June 17, 2017

            which passages are you referring to Dr. Ehrman?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 18, 2017

            Most of the ones where there are tensions with Acts — everything from Paul’s statement that he sent Timothy back to the Thessalonians from Athens (1 Thess 3) to his explanation of his Gospel message (Romans 1:18-32).

          • SidDhartha1953  June 20, 2017

            Maybe Paul had a bad (normal) memory and forgot whom he sent where. Or the author of Acts was a companion of Paul with a normally bad memory.

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 14, 2017

      What do either of you make of Josephus’ shipwreck in comparison with Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27? Is this the same shipwreck?

      The Life of Flavius Josephus–
      “3. But when I was in the twenty-sixth year of my age, it happened that I took a voyage to Rome, and this on the occasion which I shall now describe. At the time when Felix was procurator of Judea there were certain priests of my acquaintance…[4] Accordingly I came to Rome, though it were through a great number of hazards by sea; for as our ship was drowned in the Adriatic Sea, we that were in it, being about six hundred in number, [5] swam for our lives all the night; when, upon the first appearance of the day, and upon our sight of a ship of Cyrene, I and some others, eighty in all, by God’s providence, prevented the rest, and were taken up into the other ship. And when I had thus escaped, and was come to Dieearchia, which the Italians call Puteoli…”

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 15, 2017

        Shipwrecks along the Mediterranean, alas, were very, very common back then. Without modern navigational and meteorological science and technology it was quite easy to end up on the rocks.

    • Tony  June 16, 2017

      For an interesting perspective on Acts I recommend “Acts and Christian Beginnings” – The Acts Seminar Report. Edited by Dennis E. Smith and Joseph B. Tyson.

  3. Wilusa  June 12, 2017

    I’m sure one or the other of those explanations is correct, re what Paul believed and intended.

    But I’d like to point out that even if one accepts the “betrayal” as fact, there’s no good reason for believing Judas died soon afterward. If it didn’t really happen, stories like that had to be invented, to show him either repenting (too late) or “getting his just deserts.”

    I like to imagine that he’d “betrayed” Jesus because he thought Jesus had become too wrapped up in his own great “destiny,” rather than what the Kingdom would mean for everyone. Judas may have believed in a coming Kingdom, but *not* in any kind of “Messiah.” And after the crucifixion, he had no regrets; he went on to have a long and reasonably happy life.

  4. godspell  June 12, 2017

    Or maybe Judas didn’t die? I mean, eventually, as we all do, but not then.

    Matthew thought that was the correct ending to that particular ‘subplot’–and it’s a powerful one, that has been greatly embellished by later retellings. But if Judas was disgusted enough with Jesus to betray him, why would he commit suicide over a result he certainly must have known was highly likely. This is assuming Judas did betray Jesus–as opposed to doing what Jesus wanted him to do.

    The disciples didn’t know what to make of Judas, and neither do we. He’s the greatest traitor in history–and a necessary precondition of Jesus’ death and resurrection and subsequent glorification. You could argue he was more necessary to the rise of Christendom than Peter or Paul.

    Paul, I think, tends to stay away from controversial subjects as much as possible. He’s trying to unify disparate groups within the new cult. When he takes a stand–like on dispensing with new converts needing to follow the Jewish laws–that’s for the sake of expanding the ranks. What’s the percentage in him take a stance on such a controversial figure as Judas? None. Is he writing a complete history of Jesus’ life? Nope. So does he need to bring Judas up? Again, nope. So he doesn’t. He’d rather just avoid the whole subject. He doesn’t know exactly what Judas did, or exactly why Judas did it. He’s heard different stories from different people who were there. Differing opinions on what it means. He’s not that interested in why Judas did it. Because obviously it had to be done.

    Remember, he thinks Jesus is a pre-existent divine being in human form–perhaps an angel, as you have suggested. So nobody could really betray him, nobody could really kill him. Judas was a mere instrument of God’s plan. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been somebody else. Not worth sticking his neck out and alienating people who either believe he was the world’s greatest traitor, or the disciple closest to Jesus–the one Jesus entrusted with a special mission. “Do quickly what you must do.’ If we don’t believe Jesus really was a supernatural being, with divine foresight–doesn’t this indicate a plot known only to the two of them?

    • godspell  June 12, 2017

      Worth mentioning (but I forgot) that Acts was probably written years after Matthew. Luke might not have read it, but he would have heard some of the same stories Matthew was influenced by. And in any event, both wrote about many things we can be pretty sure did not happen.

      Since Acts probably came later, possible he had some feedback about why he left out such an important part of the story. Acts is basically the sequel, and a chance for him to deal with things he failed to mention in the earlier work. But Luke is a good storyteller, and if he was both aware of Judas’ betrayal and suicide, and fairly confident it had happened, wouldn’t it be more organic and satisfying to include it in the gospel story, as Matthew did?

      John, I suppose, might have left it out because it was irrelevant. To him, as to Paul, Jesus was never really a mortal being. Judas couldn’t have done anything without Jesus first acceding to it.

      One other possibility I didn’t mention–suppose Judas didn’t kill himself, but was murdered, by enraged followers of Jesus? Not necessarily from the inner circle, but hangers-on.

      After all, a man being found hanging from a tree is hardly proof positive that he hanged himself–as Americans, we all know, sadly, that there are other possible explanations.

      There is a long human tradition, and most especially with the colonized, of dealing summarily with informers. But Jesus had preached long and hard against any form of vengeance, and violence most of all. Nothing could be more shameful to early Christianity. If the facts of the case were on the murky side (and of course they would have been), they might have opted for the lesser evil. Hmmm, I detect the outlines of an interesting historical mystery novel here. Pity Umberto Eco never got around to it.

  5. Salvador Perez  June 12, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman. Why would there be different Christian traditions so early? since most if not all of the disciples were alive at the time of Paul, I think the teachings and traditions should be pretty much unified

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Paul himself indicates that there are all sorts of different Christian views on everything: he’s constantly fighting those who have “other” opinions on this, that, or the other thing. That’s among the clearest evidence that in fact the movement was not unified from the outset.

      • catguy  June 14, 2017

        If I am not mistaken I believe Paul was constantly dealing with Greek ideas that would infiltrate into the teachings about Christ. Gnosticism being key among them. In some of the churches where Paul is writing epistles there seemed to be some level of syncretism between Greek philosophy and the teachings that Paul was trying to impart. At least that is the way it seems to me so I can understand all these different “views.”

        • Bart
          Bart  June 15, 2017

          My sense is that Gnosticism was a later development; it can’t be fully documented until the second Christian century.

      • godspell  June 15, 2017

        Which is what you’d expect. This is how all movements start out, religious, political, artistic. You don’t begin with unity and orthodoxy and consensus. Particularly not when you lose the one person who held the whole thing together.

        It was a delusion of later eras of Christendom, lamenting their own divisions, and thinking, as people tend to do, that things must have been simpler in the past.

        • Salvador Perez  June 21, 2017

          Paul seems to indicate that Jesus’ brothers were the new leaders (though not indicated anywhere that it was his will in case he died) even so, it is too early for Christianity to splinter like that. For example: Islam, did not fragment into more than 2 religions until 400 years after Mohamed had passed away. So why did Christianity seemed split after day 1 of Jesus’ death?

    • Tony  June 14, 2017

      It’s very hard to get a consistent tradition if that tradition is based on individual visions (revelations) and scripture interpretations only. There never was a Jesus of Nazareth to get unified information about.

      Also, that’s probably the reason the original Pauline Christianity disappeared. The proto-orthodox, with the creation of the Jesus of Nazareth story, were able to enforce a much more consistent tradition.

  6. wostraub  June 12, 2017

    Bart’s “Big Ten” analogy works for me. It’s no big deal, but the ultimate fate of Judas (per Matthew, Acts and Papias of Hierapolis) leaves me wondering exactly what happened to the guy.

  7. mannix  June 12, 2017

    Maybe Paul just “forgot” there were only eleven left!

  8. gavriel  June 12, 2017

    Maybe Paul purposely replaced prodidomi with paradidomi ( in the tradition he received), so as to avoid the idea of a heavenly salvation plan being enacted by means of a traitor? After all, the remaining NT writers struggle hard to make sense of it.

  9. James Chalmers  June 12, 2017

    That one of his close disciples betrayed Jesus is rather embarrassing. Why would anyone close to him not admire and love him?
    Hence a report that Jesus was betrayed by one of his own is likely to be true. It isn’t surprising that t some tradents dealt with by forgetting or suppressing it, and others by explaining how the betrayer came to regret what he’d done and got what he deserved. But still, on balance, it’s likely that the story wasn’t made up from nothing, and that some close follower of Jesus did, as a matter of historical truth, inform the Romans of something that led to Jesus’s arrest.

    Thus on the criterion of multiple sourcing, tain’t so, and on the criterion of embarrassment, ’tis. So on balance, it probably is so.

    Is this about right?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Yup, that’s pretty much how I read it.

    • llamensdor  June 14, 2017

      The idea that Judas “betrayed” Jesus by pointing him out in the Garden is utter nonsense. Jesus had been preaching in the Temple, the hierarchy would have known all about him and Temple guards or Roman soldiers didn’t need Judas to point him out. They had undoubtedly been following him around and knew him on sight. I personally believe that Judas acted in a manner that eventually resulted in Jesus’ death, but he did not intend to betray Jesus. He made a terrible mistake and his “good” intentions resulted in disaster. I also be lieve he was consumed by guilt and committed suicide, but not by hanging himself.

  10. danieljcathers  June 12, 2017

    When you say the author of the Gospel of Peter knew of Matthew’s traditions but did not know of Judas’ betrayal and death, do you mean he possibly had access to Matthew’s sources (but of course not anything involving Judas’ death) but not Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Or he had access to Matthew but simply didn’t subscribe to all Matthew says.

      • danieljcathers  June 15, 2017

        Sure, but in that case it seems the Gospel of Peter is discounted as evidence there was a competing tradition that Judas survived until the appearances.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 16, 2017

          No, it’s simply saying that in addition to Matthew he had other traditions available to him. OR he made it up himself.

  11. Rick
    Rick  June 12, 2017

    What’s your take on Judas “betrayal” as a literary device to incorporate “the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders” (i.e. The Jews) as the ones arresting Jesus and thus the ones ultimately responsible for his execution? Mark would appear to be the synoptic’s source of the story – written during or just after the First Jewish war perhaps prompting the author to absolve the Romans?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      I’ve considered the option, but don’t hold to it. I give some discussion to it in my book The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot.

  12. James Cotter  June 12, 2017

    Dr Ehrman,
    i have an off topic question. in mark, the jews in 2 days are able to turn crowds against jesus. 2 days earlier, they fear a possible riot from the people:

    “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

    is there anything in the historical writings which have religious priests getting criminals/non criminals crucified hours before high holy day ?
    why did the religious priests no longer fear possible riot when they got jesus crucified hours before high holy day ?

    no crowd cares about the closeness of HIGH HOLY day and crucifying a person who is declared innocent?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      I’m not aware of any historical record of Jewish leaders turning someone over to the Roman authorities for execution in any way or any time. Maybe someone else on the blog can think of an instance?

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 14, 2017

      It’s important to distinguish between “turning over” someone, which implies that the Jewish authorities were first to take custody of someone, and merely accusing someone, which suggests that the Jewish authorities are only pointing fingers. The power dynamics of that time and place suggest that while it was certainly possible for the Jewish authorities to arrest and convict someone, it was the Romans who had the power to mete out punishments, especially executions.

  13. john76  June 12, 2017

    I find it interesting that Paul seems to suggest Cephas wasn’t one of the twelve: “and that He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.”

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Or else he is saying that first Jesus appeared to an individual from the group and then the entire group.

      • john76  June 14, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman said: “Or else he is saying that first Jesus appeared to an individual from the group and then the entire group.”

        I don’t think so. Paul says “He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve.” The natural reading is that Paul did not think Cephas was one of the twelve. Your reading is that maybe “first Jesus appeared to an individual from the group and then the entire group.” Following Paul’s construction, that would be like saying “the coach first went to see Sidney Crosby, then to The Pittsburgh Penguins,” which makes no sense since Crosby is one of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You want it to say something analogous to “the coach first went to see Sidney Crosby, then to THE REST OF The Pittsburgh Penguins,” which is not Paul’s construction here. As I said, Paul says “He appeared to Cephas and then to the Twelve,” not “He appeared to Cephas and then to the REST OF THE Twelve.” I think you are reading Cephas’ characterization in the Gospels back into Paul. Probably the historical Cephas Paul is referring to had a position of high leadership, and was therefor above the twelve.

        P.S. I just wanted to send out my congratulation to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning the Stanley Cup a few days ago. They are my favorite team, and their Captain, Sidney Crosby, is from Nova Scotia, the same Canadian province I am from! #ProudCanadian

  14. JoshuaJ  June 12, 2017

    I have seen apologists try to harmonize the discrepancy regarding who exactly purchased the field of blood by claiming that Acts 1:18 really means to say that Judas indirectly acquired the field through the agency of the chief priests; therefore, the two passages (Matthew & Acts) are not technically in conflict since the chief priests do the actual purchasing in both versions of the story. But this reconciliation is unconvincing, first of all, because of Luke’s explicit wording that Judas purchased the field himself. Secondly, this forced interpretation of Acts 1:18 seems to completely miss the larger point Luke is trying to make. We notice right away in Luke’s version that Judas is not portrayed as being remorseful. He does not return the money as a sign of repentance (as in Matthew), but instead goes to buy a field, or a homestead, with the payment received for his betrayal. By purchasing the property by and for himself, Judas is making a conscious decision to separate himself from the apostolic circle. I think Luke has developed the story this way in order to contrast Judas’ actions with those of the remaining disciples, who have left all their possessions behind and followed Jesus (Luke 5:11, Luke 18:28), and as a result will “receive an overabundant return in this present age and eternal life in the age to come (Luke 18:28-30).” Judas’ actions also stand in stark contrast with the true believers who sold their farms and fields and began sharing their possessions for the benefit of all (Acts 4:32-35). In other words, the true believers and followers of Christ will abandon their worldly possessions and sell their homes and farms for the greater good of the kingdom, while it is the apostate Judas who purchases an estate for himself, which becomes cursed as a result (Acts 1:20). Judas has turned away from Jesus and the apostolic circle to “go to his own place” (Acts 1:25), i.e. the farm he has purchased for himself with the bribe money. As a result, Judas dies on the estate and his “homestead is to become desolate (Acts 1:20).” The vacancy of Judas’ farm comes to represent the vacancy in the apostolic circle that must be restored. This is precisely why Luke has cited those particular OT passages (from Psalms) in Acts 1:20: “Let his homestead become desolate” and “let another take his position…”

    Also, notice the specific wording used in the OT passage Luke has quoted in Acts 1:20: “Let his homestead become desolate…” as seen in the NRSV and NASB Bible translations. The King James Version and the American Standard Version of Acts 1:20 read “Let his habitation be desolate…” The Christian Standard Bible reads “Let his dwelling become desolate…” The CEB, NLT, and TLB Bibles read “Let his home…” The NET Bible reads “Let his house become desolate…” The NLV Bible reads “Let his place of living…” The Greek word used here is ἔπαυλις, transliterated as “epaulis,” which literally means homestead, or dwelling, or estate, or habitation. This particular citation of the OT, along with Luke’s use of the Greek word “chōrion” in Acts 1:18, demonstrates that Luke is describing the purchase of a field or a farm that would also serve as Judas’ homestead, or dwelling, or place of living. The “chōrion” was to be Judas’ home, in other words. So we can see how this conflicts with Matthew’s account. Matthew tells us that Judas was so overtaken by guilt and remorse for his betrayal that he confessed his sins, returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests, and ran off and hung himself. This would have made clear to the chief priests that Judas no longer wanted anything to do with the “blood money.” He gave it back to them and then killed himself! Therefore, it would make absolutely no sense for the chief priests to then turn around and use the “blood money” to purchase a homestead or dwelling place (as Luke describes the property in Acts 1:18, 20) for Judas to reside, especially in light of his apparent suicide (as in Matthew). This is why the “chōrion” in Acts 1:18 cannot be read as being purchased by the chief priests on behalf of Judas. Harmonization simply is not possible, here. But worry not, for Luke never attempts to portray the chief priests as buying a homestead for Judas anyway. No, Luke explicitly names Judas as the purchaser of a “chōrion” for himself, which makes perfect sense in light of the context of Luke’s literary agenda–he is contrasting Judas’ actions (his purchase) with those of the true followers of Christ who have sold their lands for the greater good of the kingdom. Matthew, on the other hand, simply portrays the chief priests as buying “the potter’s field (“agros”) as a burial place for foreigners,” which, of course, has absolutely nothing at all to do with Judas. From this brief appraisal of the texts, it should be patently obvious to anyone that the two evangelists have named different purchasers for the “Field of Blood” and for different theological reasons. We are dealing with two different, irreconcilable stories, here. I don’t see how this can genuinely be disputed.

    • llamensdor  June 20, 2017

      A lot of erudition wasted on the idea that the Chief priests bought Judas with 30 pieces of silver. Never happened. It’s all part of this fantasy where Judas betrayed Jesus by pointing him out in the garden of Gethsemane. This is laughable, as I’ve pointed out above. Everyone, including the Roman soldiers and especially the Temple guards knew Jesus on sight. No doubt Judas’s actions resulted in Jesus’s death, but Judas loved Jesus and his “betrayal” was of a different and more profound kind. I don’t know who invented the version in the gospels, but it’s just silly.

      • JoshuaJ  June 20, 2017

        Indeed. Whatever the legend or oral tradition may have initially been, Matthew appears to have reformulated it with an eye to certain passages from the OT prophets. For example, Matthew is the only source to name the specific price for Judas’ betrayal–30 pieces of silver, which Judas later throws remorsefully into the temple. Here, Matthew is drawing from Zechariah 11:12-13, where the shepherd is paid 30 pieces of silver and then throws them “into the treasury in the house of the Lord.” Matthew is reshaping the Judas tradition in order to create the appearance of “prophecy fulfillment.” Matthew always connects his version of events to OT passages whenever possible. All the evangelists do this, though they often do it differently in order to make different theological points. This is why attempts at harmonizing the stories often does violence to the texts–it completely misses the true meaning each author is trying to convey.

      • Benevolent  September 27, 2017

        Would you mind sharing what this profound betrayal was?

  15. petegoodlion  June 12, 2017

    Later in the same passage, Paul states the resurrected Jesus appeared to the apostles. Do you think Paul thought the twelve and the apostles were a different group?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Yes, since he thought of himself as an apostle but not as one of the twelve.

  16. dragonfly  June 12, 2017

    Papias didn’t think very highly of Judas. I can’t remember exactly what he said, is his version closer to Matthew or Acts? Or a different tradition altogether?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Completely different! Not like Matthew at all. Maybe I’ll post on it.

  17. MajorBilly  June 12, 2017

    Why then does the NRSV say “betrayed”, not “handed over”?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      They’ve mistranslated it, probably because it is such a familiar verse that they decided to keep the tradiitonal rendering.

  18. Tony  June 12, 2017

    Never mind Judas, how about Peter? According to Paul; Peter, the lead disciple of he Gospels, is not one of the twelve! Here is the 1 Cor 15:5 text: “and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), THEN to the

    Incredibly, Peter is distinct and not part of “the twelve”. But how can that be? Of course, someone could do the apologist’s quick step and say that the twelve included Peter, but Peter was the first of the twelve. After all, it says so in the Gospels…

    1 Cor 15:5 is the only place where “the twelve” are mentioned in Paul’s letters. Paul never identifies followers (disciples) of Jesus by name or nature. The twelve are a mystery. But that has not stopped
    generations of NT scholars to read the Gospels back into Paul and claim that, surely, these must have been the disciples of the Gospels.

    This goes as far, as identified in this post, to the deliberate mistranslation of “handed over” into “betrayed”. The reason for this is not all that complicated. It’s deliberate, because Paul’s letters must fit the Gospels – even when they don’t. It appears not to have occurred to traditional scholarship to consider the reverse process – that Paul’s letters are not based on the Gospel events, but that the Gospels are derived from Paul’s letters!

    Suddenly, when we read Paul’s letters with this in mind, the weirdness of Paul’s refusal to write about the life and times of the gospel Jesus of Nazareth disappears. Not only that, but we find that Paul sings like a canary and describes a celestial Jesus who has never been on earth.

    The ramblings of a crazed atheist for sure. Surely, we should see some evidence for this model, not only in Paul’s letters, but in the Gospels as well. Well, here’s some. Look what the first Gospel says about the disciples when they are first appointed: Mk 3:14, “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named APOSTLES…”, and Mk 3:16, “So he appointed THE TWELVE…”. Here Mark copies the terminology directly from Paul and incorporates it into his story.

    Judas, and Jesus of Nazareth are literary fabrications based, in part, on Paul’s letters.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      The way the verse is normally read is that Jesus first appeared to an individual in the group then to the entire group (as in the Gospels)

      • Tony  June 14, 2017

        Nice quickstep! But now imagine you’ve never heard of the gospels. Extremely difficult to do – I understand. You’re reading Paul’s letter. Why in the world would you come to the conclusion you did?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 15, 2017

          Because in the very same passage he indicates that Christ appeared both to himself, individually, and to “all the apostles” (even though he considered himself to be an apostle)

          • Tony  June 15, 2017

            I understand your interpretation, but I’d consider the text far too ambiguous to draw that conclusion. In 1Cor15 there is no clear indication that having an appearance means you automatically were an apostle. The 500 rank and file “brothers” were likely not. Also, the verse you refer to might indicate James was an apostle, but Paul never clearly identifies him as such. In fact, in Gal 2:7-8 Peter is the apostle and James is just James – although an acknowledged pillar.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 16, 2017

            I’m just saying that Paul thought of himself as an apostle and yet he says that Jesus appeared to him and to all the apostles — so that seems completely analogous to saying that Jesus appeared to Cephas and to the twelve (two separate appearances, each time, one to a member of the group and one to the entire group)

    • Pattycake1974
      Pattycake1974  June 14, 2017

      You make a good point.

    • Benevolent  September 27, 2017

      Theory…Paul may not have talked much about the life and times of Jesus because he was heralding in the message of Christ:. Christ in you, the hope of glory. Paul says that there was a time we knew Christ after the flesh but no longer. He literally is not interested in Jesus the person.

  19. anthonygale  June 12, 2017

    I am wondering about two factors that could cause confusion about being “handed over” versus being “betrayed.”

    One, because the Greek words are so similar in spelling and meaning, they would be vulnerable to textual corruption (either accidental or purposeful). Is there any evidence/debate that this may have occurred?

    Two, it is not uncommon for people to incorrectly use similar (yet different) words interchangeably. Think how often people write “which” when they should write “that”, and vice versa. Perhaps Paul, other writers, and passers of oral tradition did as well. Is there evidence that this is likely the case anywhere in the New Testament?

    Despite those potential problems, I think the matter would be clear in certain contexts. When Paul briefly mentions Jesus being handed over/betrayed, it isn’t hard to imagine he said “handed over” when he meant “betrayed.” But in the context of the gospels, even if they said “handed over”, Judas is portrayed as betraying Jesus. Then again, a theory has been proposed that Judas was in on it all along, perhaps being his most trusted disciple. Proponents of that theory have cited the “handed over” versus “betrayed” distinction, favoring the former. Which Greek word is used in the gospels?

    If Paul didn’t know about the story of Judas betraying Jesus, than the fact that he describes him as being “handed over” on the very same night others describe him as being “betrayed” would be an unusual coincidence, given the similarity of the words in Greek. The context of the gospels seems clear, but Paul wrote much earlier. Has there been any debate about the possibility that the story of Judas’ betrayal sprung from a misunderstanding of “handed over” versus “betrayed.”

  20. Jim  June 12, 2017

    Probably I’m one of many to ask this question re today’s post, and by now you’re probably quite sick of answering it.

    But wasn’t Judas’ betrayal mentioned in all four gospels? So wouldn’t this suggest that the tradition of Judas as the betrayer, was being widely circulated by the last quarter of the first century? I suppose though, that this doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a common tradition in Paul’s time a few decades earlier.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Yes, Mark and John both know it independently of one another, which is an argument in favor of its historicity.

      • Tony  June 14, 2017

        There is a growing scholarly opinion that John is not independent from the synoptic gospels. Text fragments from Luke are found in John. Luke copies parts of Mark and Matthew so…. Of course, John’s base story is the same as the synoptics.

  21. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 12, 2017

    “Levi, the son of Alphaeus” would be James. He’s separated out like Paul separated James out in his text. There were 3 pillars–Peter, James and John (brothers/sons of Zebedee) then James of Alphaeus. So when Paul said Jesus appeared to James, the Lord’s brother, could he have meant James of Alphaeus? And referred to brothers of the Lord as the rest of The Twelve or any of those who were considered apostles at the time?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Calling him “the brother of the Lord” makes him *different* from everyone else (it distinguishes him from others). If he was the son of Alphaeus, that would make Jesus the son of Alphaeus, which seems unlikely.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 15, 2017

        I’ve got my Jameses mixed up. But I’ve read that when Paul wrote James as the Lord’s brother, he actually meant cousin. John’s Gospel specifically points out that Jesus’ brothers were nonbelievers, but then has Mary’s sister written in at the end along with a Mary of Cleopas. Is it just me or do these Marys multiply with each gospel written?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 15, 2017

          No, he can’t mean cousin. The Greek word for cousin in ANEPSIOS. Paul doesn’t use that word: he uses the word ADELPHOS (literally a “brother”)

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  June 17, 2017

            What I meant was I’ve read that in antiquity, men would sometimes refer to their cousins as brothers even though it wasn’t literally so. I don’t know how true that is.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 18, 2017

            Why their cousins in particular? Why not anyone to whom they were close? I don’t know of any evidence that cousins were singled out this way.

  22. Hume  June 13, 2017

    I’m reading The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finklestein, and I have Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Friedman. Are these two worth the read to discover the beginnings of the bible? Is there another book I should be reading?

  23. peterstone  June 13, 2017

    But Paul supposedly met Peter before writing any of his epistles. Wouldn’t Peter have informed him of the most important facts about Jesus’ life–including his betrayal by Judas? And so wouldn’t Paul’s continued ignorance on this score count as a reason for believing that the betrayal didn’t happen at all?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      One would think so. But there’s no evidence about what they talked about.

  24. Carl  June 13, 2017

    Considering Jesus’ underlying message of forgiveness, and the guilt of the other apostles (forsaking Jesus), is it feasible that Judas could have betrayed Jesus (with the intention of forcing his hand) and still remained one of the twelve?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      It’s not impossible. As with all history, one has to think about probabilities.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  June 14, 2017

      In my Jesus novel, I have three portrayals of Judas’ betrayal — Rashomon style. In the first telling, Judas actively colludes with the Jerusalem authorities and leads them to Jesus. In that version Judas is actually an Herodian spy who has infiltrated the group. In the second version, the Jerusalem authorities capture Judas and force him to lead them to Jesus. Jesus and Judas have an et tu Brute? moment. In the third, the Jerusalem garrison follows Judas, who unwittingly brings them to Jesus. In the final version, Judas begs Jesus for forgiveness as they’re both taken away and Jesus does forgive him. Spoiler alert! lol

  25. RonaldTaska  June 13, 2017

    Question: If I read it right, you seemed to imply that the “mythological” interpretation of the Bible (the Bible is not completely historical yet still reveals theological truths through its fictional, literary stories) was not as widely accepted among scholars as it used to be. What have been the criticisms of this mythological theory? Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      I would say that this view is dominant among critical scholars of the Bible who are still Christian, even if they don’t use the term “myth” anymore, as being problematic and dated. But they focus on things like “the narrative concerns of the author” and the like.

  26. Steefen  June 13, 2017

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    You’ve taught us that Mark did not write the Gospel of Mark and Matthew did not write the Gospel of Matthew.
    What is your position on Mark and Matthew being patrons? Thank you, Steefen

    • Bart
      Bart  June 14, 2017

      Do you mean that the historical Matthew and Mark oversaw the work of others who produced Gospels in their names? The biggest objection is that the Gospels actually are not produced in their names. No one calls them Matthew and Mark until decades after they were in circulation. Plus we don’t have any analogies to this kind of patronage authorship in antiquity.

      • Steefen  June 14, 2017

        1. No one calls them Matthew and Mark until decades after they were in circulation.
        Steefen: Well, this breaks the oral-tradition-to-written-gospel assertion and it breaks a connection to locale.
        2. We do not have any analogies to this kind of patronage authorship in antiquity.
        Steefen: The uniqueness of the situation may call for it.
        a) we were supposed to have early Christianities from each of the 11 disciples. Matthew should have had a strong following for him being a source of the written gospel of Matthew. The strength of his tradition would have needed a patron to convert the oral tradition into polished prose.
        b) Mark or his community made it to Alexandria where the tradition of Mark or his community was patronized to put their oral tradition into written form–and likely placed in one of the libraries of Alexandria.

        In the case of Mark, the gospel would not need to be called Mark without competing oral traditions in the same geography (say, Alexandria) vying for patronage to publish.

        For the time being, I’m willing to put Matthew at Yavne/Jamnia, Luke-Acts in Rome, and Mark in Alexandria.

        I’m thinking Matthew and Mark was understood without having to be titled until disparate geographical communities united in the triumph of Christianity.
        The gospels were not produced in their name because early manuscripts are not titled Matthew and Mark.
        I agree because they would not have to be because originally, for decades, they were oral traditions from different geographies. Would you agree?
        Second, Matthew and Mark are just popular people to whom attribution was given. Mark and Luke would have to be more impressive names than the original 11 disciples. Are you saying Mark and Luke had higher name recognition than the 11 disciples minus Matthew who already had name attribution to a gospel?

        Thank you, Dr. Ehrman.

        • JamesSnappJr  July 18, 2017

          Just for reference:
          “CONCLUSION: The gospels were not produced in their name because early manuscripts are not titled Matthew and Mark.”

          Among those Gospels-manuscripts of which we possess the opening page or closing page, where the title would be: the ones that have the text of Matthew without a title attributing the text to Matthew, and the ones that have the text of Mark without a title attributing the text to Mark are which manuscripts, exactly??

  27. annepquast  June 13, 2017

    Could Paul be referring to Acts 1:26 where Matthias was selected to replace Judas?

  28. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  June 13, 2017

    Bart, what does the bible say about the most beautiful angel in heaven? Bart, who was the conductor of music in heaven ? Does it ring a bell? The one who looked at you with confusion, because you thought you were equal to those divine… L***fer in the flesh a wise man told me… I am truly sorry to post randomly. I am sorry when I look in the mirror and my eyes are orange with a hint of red, and when I take a breath you feel power where it makes you want to pray… JK lol…. Bart oh Bart why did you loose your belief in God in your mind.. Bart oh Bart, you still believe in your heart… If you believe in family, you believe in God.. It sits naturally in your mind and heart…


  29. Tempo1936  June 14, 2017

    Mark knows there are only 11 disciples after the resurrection
    Mark 16:14
    Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; …he had risen.

    Mark is writing down stories passed on verbally over the decades. so there were no eyewitnesses alive when Mark wrote the Gospel?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 15, 2017

      There may have been eyewitnesses still living in the year 70 CE or so, but they would almost certainly have lived as very old people in Palestine, whereas Mark was writing somewhere else in the Empire (and gives no indication that he knew much about what was happening in Palestine)

  30. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 16, 2017

    When I read 1 Corinthians 11:23, I get the sense that Paul uses the words “handed over” because in his mind, Jesus being crucified was all part of the divine plan. What I don’t understand is Paul saying that he received it from the Lord. What part has the Lord told him? Just the conversation? The Last Supper episode in its entirety?

    It’s bizarre because there’s no reason for him to get his information from the Lord when he could have just asked any one of the Twelve instead. In fact, that would seem like the most natural thing to do.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 18, 2017

      One option is that he heard it from a “prophet” who was “speaking the word of the Lord” at one of the weekly communion dinners.

  31. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  June 19, 2017

    I found this on Wikipedia regarding James as a cousin rather than a brother:

    “James, along with the others named “brothers” of Jesus, are said by others to have been Jesus’ cousins. This is justified by the fact that cousins were also called “brothers” and “sisters” in Jesus’ native language, Aramaic, which, like Biblical Hebrew, does not contain a word for cousin.[49] Furthermore, the Greek words adelphos and adelphe were not restricted to the meaning of a literal brother or sister in the Bible, nor were their plurals.[48]”

    It goes on to say why Eusbesius and Jerome thought James was Jesus’ cousin. It’s lengthy, so I’m not going to post it. A couple of the sources for Wiki are The Catholic Encyclopedia and a book by John Saward.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 20, 2017

      It’s funny how different people find various arguments persuasive or not. For me this one seems like grasping at straws. I wonder what hte evidence for the statement actually is? But more important, the issue you’re concerned with is whether *Paul* meant “cousin” when he said “brother,” and Paul was writing in GREEK, not Aramaic, and in fact it appears that he did not even know Aramaic. So I don’t see how the argument being made in the Wikipedia article applies.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 20, 2017

        I’m guessing some are persuaded Jesus was James’s cousin because of what Eusebius and Jerome wrote about it. I think it may have to do with Jesus’ mother, Mary, having a sister at the crucifixion in John’s gospel and the confusion surrounding that.

        • Pattycake1974
          Pattycake1974  June 20, 2017

          Eusebius and Jerome’s claim to James being a cousin of Jesus according to Wikipedia:

          Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275 – 339) reports the tradition that James the Just was the son of Joseph’s brother Clopas and therefore was of the “brothers” (which he interprets as “cousin”) of Jesus described in the New Testament.
          This is echoed by Jerome (c. 342 – 419) in De Viris Illustribus (On Illustrious Men) – James is said to be the son of another Mary, wife of Clopas and the “sister” of Mary, the mother of Jesus – in the following manner:
          James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary, sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book…[14]
          Jerome refers to the scene of the crucifixion in John 19:25, where three women named Mary – Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene – are said to be witnesses. John also mentions the “sister” of the mother of Jesus, often identified with Mary of Clopas due to grammar. Mary “of Clopas” is often interpreted as Mary, “wife of Clopas”. Mary of Nazareth and Mary of Clopas also need not be literally sisters, in light of the usage of the said words in Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.[3]
          Mary of Clopas is suggested to be the same as “Mary, the mother of James the younger and Joses”, “Mary the mother of James and Joseph” and the “other Mary” in Jesus’ crucifixion and post-resurrection accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. Proponents of this identification argue that the writers of the Synoptics would have called this Mary, simply, “the mother of Jesus” if she was indeed meant to be the mother of Jesus, given the importance of her son’s crucifixion and resurrection: they also note that the mother of James and Joses is called “Maria”, whereas the mother of Jesus is “Mariam” or “Marias” in Greek. These proponents find it unlikely that Mary would be referred to by her natural children other than Jesus at such a significant time (James happens to be the brother of one Joses, as spelled in Mark, or Joseph, as in Matthew).[48][50]
          Jerome’s opinion suggests an identification of James the Just with the Apostle James, son of Alphaeus; Clopas and Alphaeus are thought to be different Greek renderings of the same Aramaic name Halphai.[48] Despite this, some biblical scholars tend to distinguish them; this is also not Roman Catholic dogma, though a traditional teaching.
          Since this Clopas is, according to Eusebius, Joseph of Nazareth’s brother (see above) and this Mary is said to be Mary of Nazareth’s sister, James could be related to Jesus by blood and law.[3]

          • Bart
            Bart  June 22, 2017

            You have to remember why fourth century church fathers were having these discussions. Jerome, for example, was pushing very hard on the idea that Christians were to lead highly ascetic lives. For him it was not enough that Mary was a virgin (since the mother of God obvioulsy could not have *sex*). Even Joseph had to be one. That meant that the “sons from a previous marriage,” such as James, could *not* be sons of Joseph from a previous marriage — as was widely believed at the time. ERGO: they must be something else. Cousins!

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 22, 2017

        I see. I saw where someone else had asked about James being a cousin. That’s why I looked it up.

  32. SidDhartha1953  June 20, 2017

    In John 20:18-24, Jesus appears to “the disciples,” who are subsequently equated with “the Twelve.” Then he says Thomas was not with them when Jesus appeared to “the disciples.” Mentioning a group of people may or may not mean that every member of that group is present. That is not proof that Paul meant to include Cephas when he referred to Jesus appearing to “the Twelve,” but it at least shows that would not be an unreasonable inference. It also doesn’t mean that Cephas had to be there when Jesus appeared to the Twelve in order to be considered one of the Twelve.
    Also, if the tradition of Matthias being chosen to replace Judas is historically true, then Matthias was one of the Twelve by the time Paul wrote about Jesus appearing to the Twelve. Since one of the qualifications for being a replacement for Judas was that one had been a witness to the resurrection, it was the case that Jesus had appeared to the Twelve, including Matthias, who (to repeat myself) was one of the Twelve when Paul wrote about it.
    People often say or write in a way that is crystal clear to themselves, not realizing that others won’t perfectly understand their meaning. I’ll bet these two paragraphs will seem a bit unclear to some, though I know exactly what I mean.

  33. ftbond  June 24, 2017

    Re: “Another one, that I tend to prefer on most days, is that Paul talks about the appearance of Jesus to the twelve because he knows nothing about the tradition that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and then died soon after.

    How could Paul not know *that*? Hey, I know that, and I wasn’t even alive at the time! But, well, the reality is that we don’t know how much Paul knew about the traditions surrounding Jesus. If he knew a lot, he certainly doesn’t *indicate* that he knew a lot. ”

    Whenever I read something that has, as it’s foundation, an “argument from silence”, I am immediately suspicious.

    Even in this case, Dr Ehrman notes “If he [Paul] knew a lot, he certainly doesn’t *indicate* that he knew a lot”.

    And… that might be exactly the case.

    What we have is seven “authentic letters” from Paul, and every single one of them are written to individuals or groups of people that are *already* believers in Christ. They’ve *already* heard the “Jesus story”, else, they wouldn’t be Christians, would they?

    So, what we *really* have indication of, from Paul, is that he evidently saw no need to “cover that same old territory”. As Paul even states in Romans “…and thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation”.

    If Paul didn’t see any real value to preaching Christ where Christ was “already named”, one would hardly expect him to find a great deal of value in writing “the Gospel According to Paul” to people who had already received that message.

    When you start making arguments from a standpoint of what Paul *didn’t* say, then you might as well conclude that Paul himself was born of a donkey. After all, he doesn’t say he *wasn’t*.

  34. JamesSnappJr  July 18, 2017

    (Perhaps this was already asked; I scrolled past some comments.)

    . . . but what if the author of the “Gospel of Peter” likewise used the term “twelve disciples” in a titular sense?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2017

      Yup, it’s possible. But in that instance, it is not an outsider identifying the group, and that is usually thought to be significant.

  35. heronewb  August 29, 2017

    The idea that the group was referred to as “The Twelve” because “there were 12 apostles” doesn’t add up. For one, wouldn’t Paul make 13 apostles? He called himself an apostle. Also, what is it with the 12/13 ambiguity? For example, you have the “twelve tribes” despite there being 13 tribes (there was no tribe of Joseph, nor Josephites), and then you have the “12 apostles” despite there being 13 (according to Paul), unless Paul was disputing Matthias being an apostle.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 29, 2017

      “The twelve” was a technical designation for the twelve disciples of Jesus who followed him around during his ministry and then went on to be his first missionaries — it doesn’t refer to *everyone* who was an apostle.

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