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How Paul Persecuted the Christians

I pointed out in the previous post that prior to his conversion Paul was a persecutor of the church, almost certainly because he objected to what their basic and fundamental message was, that Jesus was the messiah (despite the fact – or rather because of the fact – that he had been crucified).   But how exactly did Paul engage in his persecution.   He himself says that it was a violent persecution.  What could that mean?

We don’t know exactly how he proceeded.  Paul never describes his persecuting activities.   The book of Acts indicates that he ravaged the gatherings of Christians and dragged people off to prison (8:3).  That’s inherently implausible: we don’t know of anything like Jewish prisons and we can assume that Roman authorities were not inclined to provide cell-space for Jewish sectarians who happened to be proclaiming a rather strange message.

So what was he doing to Christians during his persecution of them?  There is one intriguing and possibly helpful comment that Paul makes about his *own* persecution (that is, later, after he believed in Jesus, how he himself suffered at the hands of others), where he says that after his conversion, he received on five occasions the “forty lashes minus one” (2 Corinthians 11:24).  That is a reference to …

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The Conversion of Paul
Why Paul Persecuted the Christians

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Jderwin86  June 14, 2016

    I’ve always been a little undereducated when it comes to Paul. I’ve been digging through the blog but am really looking forward to your future posts!

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  June 14, 2016

    Is there any indication or evidence that the Jewish christians eventually excepted Paul’s view that one did not have to convert to Judaism to be saved? Of course I’m looking at the psychologically (my occupational hazard) but if Paul had such a problem with Jesus being considered the Messiah that was raised from the dead, then I can envision that many of the Jewish disciples may have been uncomfortable with the Gentiles becoming coming followers of Jesus without being Jewish. Being Jewish was/is not just their religion it was there ethnicity and their nationality.

    Not only could I envision the early Jewish Christians being uncomfortable with Gentiles following Jesus without being Jewish, I wonder if those Jewish Christians struggled with Paul’s theological view because it implies that being Jewish, and all that entails, was no longer essential? I wonder since being Jewish was no longer a prerequisite for following Jesus, did some of those Jewish Christians lose their identity as a Jew?

    It also makes me wonder if that was an underlying reason why many Jews began to reject Jesus? Theological reasons are often cited as why the Jews rejected Jesus, but I am beginning to think that a deeper or equivalent reason was that as Christianity began to separate and grow away from Judaism, some Jews refused to follow Jesus because it meant giving up Judaism, a core aspect of what made then who they were.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      We know of Jewish Christian groups down into the later centuries who continued to think Paul was the arch-heretic and that a person had to be Jewish in order to follow Jesus.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  June 18, 2016

        Yep, but you didn’t have to be Jewish to be a “god-fearer,” and the Jews of that era were perfectly comfortable with non-Jews participating in their synagogues. There also was the so-called Code of Noah, which accepted non-Jews as believers without being circumcised, etc. You’re a man of extraordinary intellect and achievement, but although you’re not a believer, it seems to me you’re still confined by much of your earlier thinking about Paul, etc. He was a very clever guy and had an enormous impact on human history, but I think much of what he claimed, and what is claimed about him, is pure (or impure) invention. He was a fantastic story-teller, and as a novelist, myself, I have great admiration for his creativity.

        • Avatar
          flyboydh1  October 28, 2016

          Great post. I’m convinced Paul was no Pharisee for reasons you state and also the portrayal of Paul as a student of Gamiliel. I recently wrote Dr. Peter Enns about this same topic. Here is what I said to him:

          Dr. Enns!

          By tampered I mean the writers of the NT intentionally made some small/some large changes to verses in the Hebrew Bible when they referenced them in the NT writing. The best/simplest example of this is Hebrews 10:5-7. I’m looking at an NIV right now and it directs me to look at Psalm 40:6-8 while reading Hebrews 10:5-7. They do not say the same thing at all. Read for yourself (although I’m sure you’ve seen this before). Would you be ok if someone cited your book but changed the words and meaning of what you wrote?

          Paul claims to be a student of Gamaliel, but we read in Acts 5 that Gamaliel admonished the Sanhedrin NOT to persecute the Apostles, this the very same man Paul says he was a student of. Additionally, Acts 5:17 explains the high priest as a sadducee, who sent Paul to persecute Christians (Acts 22:3-5). The sadducees did not believe in the Oral Torah. Pharisaic Judaism does believe in Oral Torah and is the Judaism still practiced today. Sadducees and Pharisees were complete polar opposites because of this and at great odds with each other. The question becomes, why would Paul, a self proclaimed Pharisee, listen to a Sadducee telling him to go to Damascus to persecute Christians? Especially when his primary teacher, Gamaliel, pushed to leave the Apostles alone. This makes no sense. This would be like Bill Clinton voting for Donald Trump. Additionally, Paul’s language about himself is not reflective of the group of Jews he claimed to be a follower of. Often his words about himself are arrogant and self serving. Very different from the Pharisaic tradition he claimed to follow. Next, why would he make such a strange statement in Galatians 3:16? This is like saying a herd of deers are crossing the road. Over and over the Hebrew Bible uses the word “seed” to describe descendants. Not just one person. These are just a few examples of why I seriously question Paul’s understanding of Judaism and the Hebrew Bible and/or his motivation. I could give so many more examples.

          Finally, for similar reasons, I find it implausible for a learned Jew to write any of the NT; so many pieces taken out of context. It’s more reasonable that the NT writers simply went through a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and picked verses they saw fit to include in the their writings about Jesus, knowing full well their audience would be mostly uneducated non-Jews. And where things didn’t quite line up, they were simply changed for the same reason. If you haven’t already, James Tabor and Hyamm Maccoby write very interesting works about these topics. If the NT was written by Jews, why wouldn’t they write them in Hebrew? The dynamic differences between the two languages is extraordinary. Would God just decide Hebrew was no longer holy, and move on to Greek? Highly doubtful.

  3. Brad
    Brad  June 14, 2016

    I never understood why there was thirty-nine lashes and not another number. Why is that? Maybe from a reference in the OT.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      I guess 40 was thought to be a BIG number (it figures prominently in OT stories — 40 years in the Wilderness mean a very long time; during NOah’s flood, raining 40 days and nights — long time. etc.)

  4. Avatar
    Todd  June 14, 2016

    I mentioned previously that I think Paul’s visions and his conversion was the turning point in the development of Christianity as a universal religion rather than a minor sect of Judiasm. Paul may not have invented Christianity, as some say, but he was central to it’s dominance in the Roman world (and it’s expansion over the centuries).

    This post, and your post yesterday, are very clear regarding Paul’s role in the development of Christian expansion. Very good. I personally appreciate this series.

  5. Rick
    Rick  June 14, 2016

    Paul seems to have something in common with certain Conservative Christians today… he spent most of his life worrying about what other people believed.

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  June 14, 2016

    “The book of Acts indicates that he ravaged the gatherings of Christians and dragged people off to prison (8:3). That’s inherently implausible: we don’t know of anything like Jewish prisons and we can assume that Roman authorities were not inclined to provide cell-space for Jewish sectarians who happened to be proclaiming a rather strange message.”

    Dr. Ehrman, while it’s true that the Roman authorities couldn’t have cared less about a message concerning doctrinal issues between Jews — e.g. whether the Messiah would suffer or not — one thing the Romans would have absolutely cared about was any movement that spread a message that had the potential to incite sedition and/or outright rebellion. The message that the God-ordained King of the Jews was not only at the threshold, but that he had already arrived, well, I’m sure you can appreciate how threatening that would seem to the powers that be in Judea.

    If the hypothesis I described in my previous comment (i.e. that Paul was inspired by his leaders to persecute Christians not so much for their specifically unorthodox beliefs, but because of the implications of their belief put into action), then not only is it plausible that Paul had a hand in turning over Christians to the Jerusalem authorities, it’s practically expected. If we think about the significant disparity between what Paul (as Saul) probably believed and what the Christians believed — namely, that Paul believed the Messiah was going to come but not any time soon, while the Christians not only believed that the Messiah was coming any day now but that he had already come and died for the Jews’ intransigence — then it would make sense to a man like Paul that we was thwarting a false and dangerous movement. That is, Paul believed that the Christian movement followed a false prophet, and that such a movement was threatening to the stability and peace of Judea. If that was the case, then everything Paul says he did, and everything Acts says Paul did, lines up perfectly. The doctrinal issue was peripheral to a greater concern for public order and peace.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      You’re obviously going in a very different direction from me, but it’s very interesting!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 16, 2016

        That’s probably because you’re an historian and I’m a social scientist. Historians can only work with whatever documents they have available. But as a social scientist the very first thing one learns is to never ever trust what people say. Words can lie, but actions cannot. And when a person’s words contradict their actions, that’s when things get interesting.

        For example, in Galatians 1:20, where Paul emphatically insists that he is not lying — even swearing by God to prove it (contrary to what Jesus supposedly prescribed in Matt. 5:33-37) — when he says that his knowledge of Jesus “is not of human origin”. Now, an historian can merely read this statement by Paul and compare it against other things said by Paul or things said about Paul by other people (i.e. the author of Acts), but that’s it. An historian cannot actually get inside Paul’s head to see what Paul’s really all about.

        But a social scientist such as myself will read that statement by Paul and it will immediately raise suspicions. For a man who has such a grandiose sense of himself Paul is being awfully defensive — not in just that passage but in the entire letter to the Galatians! Paul is coming across as a very frustrated, very fearful man. Indeed, Paul is coming across as paranoid, which becomes all the more evident when he later calls those Christians who don’t agree with him “false brothers” (Gal. 2:4), which is a textbook case of paranoia. (When you divide the world into only sheep and wolves, then you’ll assume that everyone who isn’t a sheep is a wolf — classic binary thinking.)

        So I have to ask myself, what would make Paul so frustated? What would make him so fearful and paranoid? Well, Paul tells us himself (for the moment, ignore the part where I said that you should never ever trust what anyone says) in Gal. 4:11 that he fears that his work has been wasted. And then, bang! like a rocket, Paul’s psychological insecurities come shooting forth in Gal. 4:15-20. Paul is perplexed at how disloyal the Galatians have become (that they would have once figuratively torn their eyes out for him), and Paul fears having become an “enemy” in their eyes (cf. the sheep vs wolves binary thinking above). And the coup de grace comes when Paul tranfers his own paranoia onto the Galatians by suggesting that the only motive behind the supercillious Judaizers is to make the pagan Galatians feel inferior by not becoming Jews — “They make much of you, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you may make much of them.” In other words, Paul resents the fact that the Judaizers are undoing all his hard work by making the Gentiles feel inferior by not being Jews.

        And finally, to top it all off, Paul intimates that Satan, the Evil One himself, may have a hand in all this business. In Gal. 5:7-12 Paul says that such an evil message (of forced Judaizing) “does not come from the one who calls you” (i.e. it comes from Satan instead), after which he compares it to the unclean chamatz (again, an implication of Satan), and then Paul condemns to hellfire those preaching by this satanic message — but only have they themselves have been castrated (i.e. why stop at just the foreskin?). At this point Paul’s paranoia has reached full bloom. It’s no longer merely Paul vs. the Judaizers. It’s Paul, holy warrior, vs. Satan himself. As a social scientist, when I read this, it all makes sense. Paul is a textbook case of a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. http://www.healthcentral.com/schizophrenia/c/100/9663/paranoia/

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  June 18, 2016

      There is a fundamental (you should excuse the expression) flaw in your thinking, talmoore. The most powerful element in Paul’s ministry was his claim that the apocalypse was imminent, and if his audiences didn’t “convert” immediately, they were doomed. And converting was easy–a few words, a little water and you were saved. Without Paul’s ability to persuade people of this impending cataclysm, he would have been far less successful in his evangelism. Of course, promises of an afterlife in heaven didn’t hurt, either.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  June 19, 2016

        Paul probably came to believe the apocalypse was imminent around the same time he came to believe Jesus was the crucified messiah. The causality of the two beliefs, of course, is up for debate. That is, it’s a chicken and egg question. Did Paul come to see the apocalypse as imminent and that revelation was a catalyst for him accepting the Christian message? Or was Paul persuaded by the Christian message and with that came his acceptance of the imminence of the apocalypse?

        My speculation is that the young man Paul (i.e. Saul) was steeped in Pharisaic apocalypticism, which tended to be less impatient for the impending Day of Resurrection and Judgment, in comparison to, say, the Essenes, who were practically on pins and needles with anticipation. Think of it like the difference between a modern Episcopalian versus a modern Evangelical. Both believe (nominally) in an impending ends times eschatology, but while most Episcopalians abide the wait with a patience bordering on indifference, Evangelicals think and act as if Judgment Day is going to arrive any minute now.

        So we can imagine that Paul started out somewhat like a fuddy-duddy Episcopalian of Judaism (which, I admit, is not the best analogy, since the “episcopalians” of Judaism in 1st century Judea were probably the Sadducees), and kind of like how Dr. Ehrman became disenchanted by the established Episcopalianism of his youth only to be sucked up into the whirlwind of Evangelical Christianity, which offered a radical and exciting worldview, Paul probably had a similar journey, where he became disenchanted by the established, unexciting Pharisaism with which he was familiar, only to be turned onto this new, radical, exciting worldview of the Christians. That’s why I can imagine that if there is anyone who can related to Paul’s journey it’s Dr. Ehrman, who seems to have had his own Road to Damascus moments in life and can, therefore, relate to Paul’s ostensibly sudden change in beliefs.

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 14, 2016

    Very interesting and educational. Keep going!

  8. Avatar
    John  June 14, 2016

    Just a couple of points:

    1. “The book of Acts indicates that he ravaged the gatherings of Christians and dragged people off to prison (8:3). That’s inherently implausible: we don’t know of anything like Jewish prisons and we can assume that Roman authorities were not inclined to provide cell-space for Jewish sectarians who happened to be proclaiming a rather strange message.”

    Why is it implausible since we know that Paul himself was imprisoned a number of time throughout his career?

    2. ” What does appear certain is that prior to Paul’s conversion, the Christian faith was being spread almost exclusively in Jewish speaking circles. It is Paul himself, as I will explore in a later post, who appears to have first had the idea that gentiles could become Christians without first becoming Jews.”

    Notwithstanding Paul’s work in other towns, he was NOT the one who brought Christianity to the pagans in Rome which, even then seemed like an important church. Isn’t it fair to say that, one possibility is that if Paul had not converted, no one would have notice the difference.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      He was imprisoned by Roman authorities, not Jewish. I don’t think there’s any evidence that Jews in Jerusalem had a prison.

      If Paul hadn’t converted, I suppose, well, we have no idea what else might have happened instead!

  9. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 14, 2016

    If you think Paul was persecuting Christians by having them flogged, do you have any ideas about what sort of position he might have held in his synagogue? How he would have had the *authority* to order such things?

    And…is it known whether floggings ever caused actual *deaths*?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      My guess is that he riled up the local authorities against the followers of Jesus, and they took it from there.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  June 18, 2016

        My guess is, it never happened.

  10. Greg Matthews
    Greg Matthews  June 14, 2016

    You say:

    “What does appear certain is that prior to Paul’s conversion, the Christian faith was being spread almost exclusively in Jewish speaking circles.”

    Do you envision the small number outside of the “almost exclusively” as being Gentiles or Greek speaking Jews?

    What I find to be equally astounding to Paul’s conversion from zealous persecutor to zealous proselyte is, based on your recent posts on the Christian population numbers, how FEW Christians there must have been at the time of his conversion (less than 100 for sure?) and he still made the switch from Christ-hater to true believer.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      My sense is that gentiles *may* have been brought in before Paul, but if so it was not many, and they would have had to convert to Judaism.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  June 17, 2016

      ” from Christ-hater to true believer”? I don’t think he hated the messiah.

  11. Avatar
    godspell  June 15, 2016

    Persecution can take a lot of forms, but clearly Paul had no army, no authority (religious or secular), so whatever he did involved getting some form of local authority structure to persecute Christians in an area he was visiting. Either the Jewish authority or the Roman authority.

    John Calvin, centuries later, once saw an old enemy, Michael Servetus, in Geneva, attending one of his services–nobody really knows why Servetus was there, he was a very passionately religious man, and he wanted to convert everyone to his particular view of the Trinity. Servetus was considered a heretic at this point by both Catholics and many Protestants, and heresy was still punishable by death. However, Geneva was self-governing, like most Swiss communities. Nobody was necessarily going to arrest the man simply because he was in town. Calvin could have just let it pass (but then he wouldn’t have been Calvin).

    He alerted the local authorities to the presence of the heretic. He had no direct authority, but his influence was great by that point. Servetus was arrested, tried, and burned at the stake. Calvin, mercifully, asked that his sentence be commuted to beheading (in fairness, those were the only two possible sentences for heresy, but it still comes across a bit Monty Python, wouldn’t you say?).

    http://www.challies.com/articles/the-servetus-problem

    The Romans presumably retained the formal death penalty for themselves–though we do know, from the gospels, that impromptu stonings did take place in the Jewish community at that time. In any event, all Paul could do was show up at a place, speak out against the infamy of these Christians (“We’ve got trouble! Right here in River City!”), point them out to local authorities, and hope to disrupt their activities enough to shut down the local Christians. Unlikely he was trying to exerminate them, just intimidate and disrupt them enough to stop their growth as a cult. But given the strength of religious passions, and the Roman vigilance against any form of sedition (the founder of this cult had been executed for sedition), I would think it highly likely some people died as a result.

    And Paul would have seen what he was doing to these people, and how willing some of them were to undergo persecution in Jesus’ name–and a war started inside of him.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      The difference is that being a heretic in Calvin’s day was a capital offense because of governmental legislation. The Romans had no such legislation about religion.

      • Avatar
        godspell  June 16, 2016

        It’s a very important difference, but the Romans did insist that whatever god or gods you worshipped, you still pay at least token homage to their gods, because their gods represented the Roman state itself. There was no such thing as heresy under the Romans (if their form of paganism had survived, I suspect that would have changed), but there was such a thing as sedition.

        The Romans were well aware that extreme religious devotion might lead to popular uprisings that would have to be put down, as indeed happened not that long after Jesus’ death. When you get right down to it, the Old Testament is heavily composed of stories demonstrating that monotheists and polytheists don’t typically get along that well. They don’t understand each other. Incompatible mindsets.

        Paul probably couldn’t have Christians put to death by the Romans, but he could say to the local Roman functionaries “These people are stirring up division in the Jewish community, their leader was crucified for seditious activity, you better watch out for them.” Of course, it would be the traditional Jews who rose up, and the Christians who would be saying “We have nothing to with these people, we’re something else entirely!” possibly with a cock crowing in the background.

        I agree Paul could not have instituted any mass pogroms against Christians by the state, but there could have been stonings, or other small scale activities. If he’d been going around butchering them, I tend to doubt he’d have been accepted as a Christian leader, no matter how sincere his conversion. Probably more of a nuisance than anything else, but given the volatility of feelings, I still suspect some people died, or were otherwise severely harmed by his activities. I think this in part because Paul had that vision–which, like the visions of Jesus risen, could have stemmed from buried guilt.

  12. Avatar
    Judith  June 15, 2016

    Paul would have had to have help in giving those lashings to another man, wouldn’t he? Yet Paul says ‘he’ persecuted Christians, not ‘we’ persecuted Christians. As a Roman citizen, would that have enabled Paul to subject a man to being lashed without any opposition?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      I don’t believe he was a Roman citizen

      • Avatar
        jhague  June 16, 2016

        Why did the author of Acts say that Paul was a Roman citizen?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 18, 2016

          It elevated his status.

          • Avatar
            jhague  December 28, 2018

            I think the same thing in regards to Paul stating that he persecuted Christians. Kind of like ministers now state that they used to be drug adicts, drunks, etc but look what God has done with their lives. Paul can say I used to persecute Christians but look what God has done with my life. Does that make sense?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 30, 2018

            Yes, Paul is the first one on record to take that line.

      • Avatar
        Judith  June 16, 2016

        Found in the Archives (7/19/14) you think Acts (22:28) is inaccurate, that Paul himself gave no hint of being a Roman citizen.

      • Avatar
        Judith  June 17, 2016

        Dr. Ehrman,

        Just going to the Archives for answers before asking you questions would probably make a difference in your daily load of messages needing attention. I’m going to start doing that!

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  June 18, 2016

        Wow! As my postings make evident I’m not a fan of Paul–well, that’s not quite true. I have to (grudgingly) admire what he was able to accomplish. I didn’t know whether he was a citizen or not, but if you don’t believe that, why do you believe his other claims?

  13. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 15, 2016

    Here’s an OT question I just thought of.

    Let’s take it as a given that Peter (and at least a few other original disciples) believed in Jesus’s resurrection, and its significance for “salvation.” But they knew the *living* Jesus hadn’t performed miracles.

    I’ll focus on Peter, because he supposedly wound up in Rome – had an audience beyond Galilean peasants. If he had insisted, forcefully, throughout his life, that the living Jesus hadn’t performed miracles, could the “miracle” tales have been nipped in the bud? Does their survival indicate that he *encouraged* their spread, knowing they weren’t true?

    (BTW, I’m finding it hard to think about *anything* other than what happened in Orlando – and the horrific “religion” being preached by that Baptist pastor in Sacramento.)

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      Why would Peter insist that Jesus had not done any miracles??

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  June 16, 2016

        Because he was *honest*, cared about a silly thing we call the *truth*? (Did *no one* care about it in that era?)

        • Avatar
          godspell  June 19, 2016

          You’re imposing your ideas on people who lived a long time ago. Basically, everybody believed in magic. Not all in the same way, or to the same extent, but Peter was not some educated sophisticate. He was a poor man, probably illiterate. Peter obviously did believe Jesus performed miracles. Even people who thought Christianity was a ridiculous cult still believed Jesus performed miracles, they just didn’t think that meant he was Messiah, or God–wonder workers were not so uncommon. You could say (and many did) that he got his powers from demons.

          And I have to say this–most religious people have offered their prayers and condolences over Orlando. Most Muslims, most Christians, most everybody else. You are giving far too much power to the haters–and one of the most famous atheists of all time, Christopher Hitchens, was a well-known homophobe–not to mention a war-monger who advocated for the Iraq invasion, which certainly brought about much of the current insanity.

          Do you want to be judged by the worst thing you ever did, or the best?

          Go thou and do the same.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  June 20, 2016

            As a reminder, what I said was:

            “I’m finding it hard to think about *anything* other than what happened in Orlando – and the horrific “religion” being preached by that Baptist pastor in Sacramento.”

            Your response:

            “And I have to say this–most religious people have offered their prayers and condolences over Orlando. Most Muslims, most Christians, most everybody else. You are giving far too much power to the haters–and one of the most famous atheists of all time, Christopher Hitchens, was a well-known homophobe–not to mention a war-monger who advocated for the Iraq invasion, which certainly brought about much of the current insanity.

            “Do you want to be judged by the worst thing you ever did, or the best?

            “Go thou and do the same.”

            Frankly, I’m appalled by someone’s criticizing anyone for condemning what that Baptist pastor said! I recognize that he didn’t commit a crime: he stayed within the bounds of free speech protected by the Constitution. But I think most decent Americans were outraged…and *we* have a right to say *that*.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  June 20, 2016

            And re the main topic of my previous post…

            “You’re imposing your ideas on people who lived a long time ago.”

            I refuse to believe that as recently as two thousand years ago, people didn’t recognize a difference between truth and falsehood. The *Ten Commandments* forbid what we call “perjury”! And while ordinary lying (obviously) doesn’t constitute perjury, lying about “miracles” attributed to God could be considered sacrilege.

            “Peter obviously did believe Jesus performed miracles.”

            If *you* believe the living Jesus performed miracles (I know Bart doesn’t), we’re not on the same page at all.

            But let’s assume the living Jesus didn’t perform miracles. Peter, who’d been his closest discople throughout his ministry, undoubtedly knew that!

            If Jesus, on his own, had come to believe he was the Messiah – and *he* knew he couldn’t walk on water or restore a blind person’s sight – he surely would, among his disciples, have pooh-poohed the notion of any “holy man’s” being able to do so. And if he was a modest man and they’d had to convince him he was the Messiah, *they* would have pooh-poohed it! (Remember, they almost certainly believed he’d only been made divine upon his resurrection.)

            But I’m willing to accept that it *may* have been impossible, in that era, for even Peter to have squelched the false tales that were being spread.

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  June 20, 2016

            And really, I can’t even follow your train of thought!

            “one of the most famous atheists of all time, Christopher Hitchens, was a well-known homophobe–not to mention a war-monger who advocated for the Iraq invasion, which certainly brought about much of the current insanity.”

            How does any of this mean I shouldn’t condemn a homophobic Baptist pastor? (I certainly wasn’t suggesting his outrageous comments were in any way typical of *Baptists*!)

          • Avatar
            smokesccreen  June 23, 2016

            Your comment about hitch caught me off guard, remembering him staunchly defending Stephen Fry’s sexuality in a debate vs. representatives of the Catholic Church. He even spoke of his first experience with “sex and love” as being a same sex relationship in school in Hitch-22.A quick Google search turned up that he considered himself Bisexual throughout most of college, and is spoken of in high regard by his close gay friends, and was even known to help draw support for gay rights movements abroad. Where are you getting this claim of him being homophobic?

    • Avatar
      Eric  June 22, 2016

      Hi Wilusa. Is it possible that it wasn’t much of an issue for Peter? If the reports of miracles arose in Jesus’s lifetime and Peter was with him and then ended up receiving lots of questions about or regarding said miracles for the rest of his own life, then I would wonder what Peter would think or say. If on the other hand, the miracles (or many of them at least) didn’t start becoming widespread and firmly woven into early Christianity until later on, when the gospels started appearing, then maybe it just didn’t really come up for Peter, and wasn’t something he’d have to confront or address. I don’t know enough about the best guesses as to how far back the miracle traditions go, but the first written evidence of them is (mostly I think) in the gospels, though there could have been stories circulating for years. If its the latter, its perhaps possible that very early miracle traditions circulated orally and that not all of them reached Peter. I have no stake, of course, in whether Peter knew that there were fantastic claims about Jesus that didn’t line up with his own experiences with him and what that means about his level of honesty — and don’t really know what the truth is, but it was something I never really thought about before at all until your post. Thanks!

  14. Avatar
    jhague  June 15, 2016

    You mention that Jewish leaders of a synagogue could hand out the penalty of flogging. Where did Paul get his authority to administer such a penalty?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      It’s not clear that he administtered the penalty; my sense is that he riled up the authorities to do so.

      • Avatar
        jhague  June 16, 2016

        So Paul riles up the authorities, they interview witnesses and then start flogging?

        Did the Romans care is the Jewish authorities flogged people?

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    Eric  June 15, 2016

    What is the meaning of “Paul” that Saul of Tarsus was moved to change to that name upon his conversion?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      Ah, that’s a misconception: he never did change his name. I think I’ll add this to the weekly readers’ mailbag!

      • Avatar
        mgoldsberry  June 17, 2016

        Can you also tell us why you don’t think he was a Roman citizen? Something I wondered about when you were discussing the historical reliability (unreliability) of Acts.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 18, 2016

          He gives no hint or reason to think he is a citizen in any of his letters. Acts has a reason to give him an exalted status, and so there have to be questions about it.

  16. Avatar
    jrhislb  June 15, 2016

    Excellent series of posts on Paul. He really is a fascinating character. I imagine that his example, that you can be the worst sinner (even a persecutor of the church) but if you repent you can gain acceptance and status in a new community, is a major contributor to Christianity being so popular.

  17. Avatar
    lbehrendt  June 15, 2016

    Bart, agreed that the local synagogue was the likely location of any “persecution” of Jewish Christians. Do you have a source for what offenses were punishable in a 1st century synagogue? I’m curious why you conclude that the offense at issue here had to be blasphemy.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 16, 2016

      No, I’m afraid we don’t have any concrete information about that.

  18. NidalRabadi
    NidalRabadi  June 16, 2016

    Hello Dr. Ehrman,

    The community that was based on John’s gospel seem to share the same Pauline view that you can be saved by believing in Jesus and not becoming a jew.

    This would mean Paul did not invent the idea, there were predecessors who thought it out. What do you think?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 18, 2016

      My sense is that if the idea started, say with Paul, in the year 33 or so, it would not be unusual for other Christians, whether they knew Paul or not, to think so some 50 or 60 years later.

  19. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  June 17, 2016

    You said that Paul’s conversion was astounding. A rabbi who was also a friend and a MFT (therapist) once said to me that Paul’s zealousness seemed a part of his personality–to wit,. he said he was zealous for his Jewish faith; when he was came to judge those who continued to believe Jesus was the messiah after his crucifixion, he persecuted them zealously; and, when he came to believe in the risen Jesus, he pursued that zealously too. His zealousness had less to do with the nature of his convictions and more to do with his nature and thus, given what he believed about Jesus-followers, it wasn’t that astonishing that he changed his mind. His zealousness stayed in him and only his focus changed.

  20. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  June 17, 2016

    Bart, you say that you are “perfectly happy calling anyone who understood that Jesus’ [death and resurrection] somehow brought salvation to the world a ‘Christian’.” What you’ve said in the past is that you had no trouble calling anyone who calls themselves a Christian a ‘Christian’. But these Jews didn’t call themselves “Christians.” According to Acts, at least, no called anyone that until after Paul’s conversion. It reminds of years ago when I met people who would tell me, a non-believer, that I really do believe but I don’t realize it.

    Nevertheless, I think I’m beginning to understand your point. We can ask, What did these people some now call “the earliest Christians” mean by “salvation”? Like Paul, later—that they would be preserved through the coming apocalypse of the End Times and live in the Kingdom of God? That might just seem to be a form of early first century Judaism. Am I right that your point is that, while it might be purely Jewish, they believed the salvation was made possible by belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection, even while they probably believed they had to remain good Jews and follow the Torah?

    Still, it seems to me that it would have been much more blasphemous to believe that salvation could be brought about by belief in the (Lord) messiah rather than by belief in LORD God Himself and His Torah, than to simply believe Jesus remained the messiah after his death by crucifixion. It would seem more likely that the former would have been persecuted much more readily than the latter.

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