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Jesus and Paul: Similarities and Differences

In my previous post I raised the question of whether Jesus and Paul represent fundamentally the same religion or not.  Here I continue the discussion by pointing out what seem to me to be the main similarities and differences between them, as I spelled it out in a post several years ago:



I have been talking about the relationship of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God to Paul’s preaching about the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous post I argued that the fundamental concerns, interests, perspectives, and theologies of these two were different. In this post I’d like to give, in summary fashion, what strikes me as very similar and very different about their two messages.

Again, in my view it is way too much to say that Paul is the “Founder of Christianity”: that assumes that he is the one who personally came up with the idea of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation, whereas almost certainly this view had been around for a couple of years before he came onto the scene. And it is probably too much even to say that he was the “Co-founder of Christianity,” for much the same reason.

But it is safe to say that of all the early Christian thinkers and missionaries, Paul is the one we know best as the one who forcefully advocated this Christian message, in contradistinction to the message of Jesus. In the writings of Paul more clearly than almost anywhere else in the NT we see that the message *of* Jesus has become the message *about* Jesus: that is, the message that was preached by Jesus during his life was transformed into a message about the importance of his death.

In any event, Jesus and Paul do share similarities as well as differences.  Here is a rough summary:

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Jesus Kissing Mary Magdalene: A Blast From the Past
Are Paul and Jesus on the Same Page?



  1. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  January 29, 2018

    It seems to me Jesus was fairly scrupulous about his observance of the law. People couldn’t have sought to touch the fringe of his prayer shawl if he didn’t wear one.

  2. Avatar
    stokerslodge  January 29, 2018

    Bart, totally unrelated: have you gone into training for your upcoming debate with Michael Licona on February 21st? Maybe you could make a few remarks about this debate on your blog. I’m a little bit older that you are Bart so I’m sure you won’t take offence if I tell you, make sure you keep off the ropes. We don’t want you being hit with an uppercut! I’ll be watching the bout with great interest. I may not get to watch it live, but I hope it will be posted on YouTube afterwards.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Ha! I haven’t even started to think about it! Guess I should, huh?

  3. Avatar
    Drmagana  January 29, 2018

    Dr ehrman
    Christianity like an established religion is clearly set on paul teachings..paul put on a big trench between any kind of judaism and future understanding of the jewish ancient god.
    Paul gives a revolutionary idea with the atonement solution believing in his death and resurrection only. so the big question still is what or who did influence on paul’s teachings? For me there is no sense and not enough evidence for his behavior after all.
    Thanks for your time
    Best regards
    Dr magaña urzua

  4. Avatar
    gavriel  January 29, 2018

    But any follower of Jesus, having had access to his original teaching, joining in after his death would have had to revise it, right?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Presumably, based on their belief in the resurrection.

  5. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 29, 2018

    Special Thanks for this post. Concerning Jesus’ viewpoint in your final bullet point, is it correct to think that Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings were primarily intended for Jews whereas Paul’s extended to Gentiles?

  6. talmoore
    talmoore  January 29, 2018

    “Both Jesus and Paul dismissed what they saw as the Pharisaic concern for the scrupulous observance of the Jewish Law as a way to obtain a right standing before God.”

    Have to disagree with that one. I don’t think Jesus “dismissed” the Pharisee’s praxis so much as he didn’t concern himself with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jesus’ main binary distinction was between those Jews who opposed the Roman occupation and those who willing collaborated with the Romans. For Jesus, the former would be saved and the latter would perish, regardless of how faithfully or rigorously they followed Pharisaic teachings on the Torah. For example, Caiaphas could have been the most Torah-observant Jew in Judea, but he would still perish because of his compliance with Rome. Meanwhile, a Galilean peasant could have the most clunky, naive — yet earnest! — approach to Torah observance, but as long as he opposed Roman rule, he would be saved.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      In the Gospels at least his main opponents are Pharisees, not Zealots or collaborators.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  January 30, 2018

        The impression one gets from the Gospels — though I’ll admit it’s not always explicit — is that the authors saw the Pharisees as in lockstep with the Romans and the Jewish authorities who collaborated with the Romans. The distinction between Pharisees and “collaborators” isn’t always clear. Sometimes they appear to want to help Jesus (e.g. Luke 13:31), but sometimes they appear to want to help Jesus’ Roman and Sadducee opponents (e.g. Matt. 12:14; John 7:32)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  January 30, 2018

        I should also add that I question whether the Pharisees were truly Jesus’ opponents — that is, in historical reality. I think — and this is just my opinion — that Jesus rarely, if ever engaged with actual Pharisees during his preaching, and that the Jesus we see in the Gospels, arguing and interacting with the Pharisees, is actually a reflection of the Jerusalem Church’s conflict with the Jerusalem Pharisees in the years following Jesus’ death. Retconning those debates back to Jesus gave the arguments of the Jerusalem “Elders” more authoritative weight.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 29, 2018

    A very helpful summary!

    But: “For Jesus, his own importance lay in his proclamation of the coming of the end and his correct interpretation of the Law.”

    Did he or didn’t he expect a major role for himself (possibly “King of the Jews”) in the coming Kingdom? For a non-Christian trying to form an opinion of him, that’s important. It affects whether one can *respect* him. I certainly can’t, if I think of him imagining a grandiose role for himself.

  8. tompicard
    tompicard  January 29, 2018

    Are you a ‘biblical literalist’?
    not in the sense SHOULD the bible be taken literally, rather in the sense the authors/speakers INTENDED THAT the words they wrote/spoke should be taken literally?

    for instance was Daniel implying
    a) a beast would arise from the literal ‘SEA’ ? and also implying
    b) one like the son of man would appear on the literal ‘CLOUDS’ ?

    to believe that God’s intention is accomplished via supernatural miracles (as i think you are implying) is a very silly misunderstanding of Jesus’ message (and probably also Pauls), regardless of how widespread the idea

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Literalists do not (necessarily) deny the force of metaphor and simile.

  9. Avatar
    Seeker1952  January 29, 2018

    Did the early Christian belief that Jesus himself (rather than an anonymous “Son of Man”) would be the “cosmic judge” precede in some way the belief that Jesus had been exalted to divine status by God through the resurrection?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      I think once they came to think he had been exalted only then did they think that he was the one coming back.

  10. Avatar
    ddorner  January 29, 2018

    I believe it was in Jesus Interrupted where you talked about how Paul viewed sin as a demonic force that had power over the evil age. I’m curious if Jesus would have shared the same view of sin as Paul? Was that a common view among apocalypticists?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Jesus certainly believed in demonic forces; but he doesn’t talk ab out “sin” in this way. Paul sees sin and death as demonic; JEsus appears to have focused on actual demons (inhabiting people)

  11. Avatar
    Seeker1952  January 29, 2018

    I believe you you consider Paul’s view of faith to be less a matter of intellectual assent and more a matter of loving trust in God and Jesus’s death and resurrection.

    Would you say that Paul’s view of faith also includes a strong note of mysticism, ie, mysticism in the sense that faith was a way “attaching oneself,” mystically, to Jesus, becoming part of Jesus’s “mystical body,” and in that way being saved by Jesus by being sort of “preserved” in him?

    Otherwise, the notion of being saved by faith, even if understood as loving trust, seems too arbitrary, too dependent on belief and attitude, too much of a simple “test,” to be plausible even in the context of the times.

  12. Avatar
    mannix  January 29, 2018

    You state Jesus did not want to start a “new religion”. What then is the meaning of Mt 16,18: “…upon this rock I will build my church…”? Is this “church” simply Jesus’ interpretation of Judaism delivered in a unique way?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Yes, I was referring to the historical Jesus. Jesus in *Matthew’s* version absolutely thinks there will be a church built on his name after his death. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus himself actually thought, fifty years earlier.

      • Avatar
        RVBlake  January 30, 2018

        Bart, you’ve just demolished the credibility of a line of about 1,600 years of Popery.

  13. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  January 29, 2018

    Dear Bart:

    Could you refer me to your works or those of others that makes the case that Christ was not referring to Himself as the Son of Man?

    Thanks, Albert

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      The classic is Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus.

  14. Avatar
    Seeker1952  January 29, 2018

    I agree with your view in the previous post on this topic that Paul and Jesus represent very different understandings of how salvation is attained. To me that makes them very different religions. Jesus was a Jew though a particular kind of Jew, ie, an apocalyptic Jew with an understanding of the Torah based fundamentally on love. I would say that, even though Paul didn’t invent Christianity, he’s the clearest early exponent of a new religion and one that’s different from the religion of Jesus.

    However, one big reservation that I have in taking this position is that the early Christians could be understood as trying to incorporate into Judaism a major insight they had from their experience of Jesus’s life, death (atoning sacrifice) and resurrection. Jesus emphasized love and repentance and forgiveness and the early Christians could have (over-)emphasized faith in recognition of God’s radical and fundamental love and forgiveness of them despite sin (eg, for example of abandoning Jesus when he was arrested). So people were expected to love and repent and forgive as Jesus taught but were also fortified by a conviction, based on their experience of Jesus, that God loved them no matter what. This conviction of God’s unconditional love could help them, at least in principle, to better love their neighbors as themselves despite their recurring and inevitable failures to do so. So faith, as trust in God’s love, entered into a tension-filled alliance with love of neighbor.

  15. cheito
    cheito  January 29, 2018

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    Jesus taught that the coming cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy the forces of evil and bring in God’s good kingdom was a figure that he called the Son of Man, someone other than himself, who could come on the clouds of heaven in a mighty act of judgment. Paul taught that Jesus himself was the coming cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy the forces of evil and bring in God’s good kingdom, who would come on the clouds of heaven in a mighty act of judgment.

    My Comment:

    DR Ehrman, you assertion that Jesus taught, that He was not the son of man, is based on what the authors of the the synoptic Gospels recorded in their accounts, and as you well know, the synoptic gospels are not historically reliable sources.

    The Gospel of John contradicts what the synoptic Gospels say about the son of man.

    Clearly, in the Gospel of John, when the ‘man born blind,’ (the man whom Jesus had recently healed), was asked by Jesus, ‘do you believe in the son of man?’, the man whom Jesus healed, replied, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?, and Jesus’ answer to him is unambiguous.

    Jesus clearly stated to the man he had healed, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” Of course Jesus is referring to Himself.

    My point, DR Ehrman, is that your assertion, that ‘Jesus taught that the Son of Man is someone other than himself, is not a solidly historical factual claim, because your assertion is based on unreliable sources. (i.e. the synoptic gospels) Therefore, you can not conclusively ascertain that Jesus in fact taught what you say, Jesus taught.


    John 9:35-37

    35-Jesus heard that they had put him out, and finding him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

    36-He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

    37-Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.”


    • Avatar
      HawksJ  February 4, 2018

      Cheito, you make the following claim in most of your posts: “based on what the authors of the the synoptic Gospels recorded in their accounts, and as you well know, the synoptic gospels are not historically reliable sources”.

      On the contrary, though, Bart ‘knows’ nothing of the sort and regularly states that John is the least historically accurate of the four.

      • cheito
        cheito  February 8, 2018


        Your Comment:

        Cheito, you make the following claim in most of your posts: “based on what the authors of the the synoptic Gospels recorded in their accounts, and as you well know, the synoptic gospels are not historically reliable sources”.
        On the contrary, though, Bart ‘knows’ nothing of the sort and regularly states that John is the least historically accurate of the four.

        My Comment:

        For DR Ehrman to be correct is his assertion that the Gospel of John is the least historically accurate of the four, he has to believe that verses such as John 1:14, 19:35, and 21:24, were either added on later, and were probably not in the original manuscript of John.

        However we have no way of knowing for sure if these verses in John were added on later or if they were in the original manuscript, because we don’t have the original manuscript, and from what I have read the manuscripts that we do have, all include these verses in John I mentioned above.

        I understand that most modern scholars usually date the Gospel of John to have been written between AD 90-110. However this is not set in stone. There are also those scholars who believe that it was John the disciple, who later became the apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John.

        Therefore if the verses in John I mentioned above were in the original manuscript, then it was the disciple whom Jesus loved who wrote the accounts used in the Gospel of John.

        And If it’s true that John the disciple testified about the accounts recorded in John and he himself wrote the things chronicled in John, (of course for the exception of those stories that are not found in our most oldest manuscripts of John, i.e., The woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, that were probably added on by the scribes who copied John) then the accounts in John are most likely the oldest accounts of all the Gospels, and were most likely in circulation before the Synoptic Gospels.

        I can’t prove to you, or any one else, my gut feeling about the Gospel of John, but I can hypothesize just like everyone else is doing. (and that’s all these scholars, who maintain that John is the least historically accurate Gospel, are doing, they are speculating that John was the last Gospel written. They can’t prove it.

        It may be that the Gospel of John was published after the synoptic Gospels, but even if this assertion by most modern scholars is true, it does not take away from the fact that John claims to be an eyewitness who wrote what he saw and testified to, and if John testimony is true then the accounts in John were written by an eyewitness, i.e., the disciple who Jesus loved and therefore are older than the accounts in the synoptic Gospels.

        I’m not sure if DR Ehrman believes that the synoptic Gospels are not historical reliable, but I do think that DR Ehrman does know that hey are not historically accurate.

        To me, if the synoptic Gospels aren’t historically accurate, then they’re not historically reliable either in certain aspects, and useless to ascertain accurately what Jesus really said and did.

        For example, the accounts recorded by Matthew and Luke about the two criminals that were crucified alongside Jesus, one on His left and one on His right, are not historically accurate and therefore are not reliable sources to determine whether both criminals insulted Jesus as Matthew states in, (Matthew 27:44) or was it Just one criminal insulting Jesus and the other one defending him, as (Luke 23:39,40) states.

        What is Historically accurate is that Jesus was indeed crucified, but the details of what these two criminals actually said and did, are contradictory and therefore historically inaccurate and unreliable.

        The only historical fact we can know for sure is that Jesus was crucified and there were two criminals crucified alongside him, one to his right and one to his left. On this fact the gospel of John also agrees.


        John 1:14-And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

        John 19:35-And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

        John 21:24-This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.


        Matthew 27:44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.

        Luke 23:39,40

        39-One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

        40-But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

        John 19:18 -There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.

  16. Avatar
    fishician  January 29, 2018

    Seems to me Jesus’ version was more universal, as people could follow the essence of the Law without endorsing various specific beliefs (perhaps not even belief in Jesus, as in Matt. 25:31f). Paul’s version requires one to learn of and come to accept a number of hard-to-verify historical facts (like the resurrection) and a number of theological concepts (like atonement, blood sacrifice, baptism, etc.). Which leaves many (most) people in the world out. Looking forward to your new book, which perhaps sheds some light on why Paul’s version won out?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      To some extent, though I don’t approach it that way directly. My second chapter is all about Paul and his influence.

  17. Avatar
    Apocryphile  January 29, 2018

    Isn’t it true that some scholars take the view that Jesus did indeed think of himself as the “Son of Man”? The “messianic secret” of Mark’s gospel seems to imply that Jesus did think of himself as, if not the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven, at least a messiah figure who was going to rule as the new king of Israel, with his disciples ruling over the twelve tribes. Or is the messianic secret simply Mark’s literary invention?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Most scholars think that. I’m just not one of them!

      • Avatar
        Stanislaw Ruczaj  January 30, 2018

        Dr Ehrman, what do you think was the role of Last Supper in Jesus’ message? What does it say about his self-conception?

        Best wishes, Stanislaw

        • Avatar
          Stanislaw Ruczaj  February 1, 2018

          Just one more question as a follow-up: don’t you think that the last supper shows that Jesus thought of himself as central in the God’s plan of salvation? That would disagree with your claim that “For Jesus, his own importance lay in his proclamation of the coming of the end and his correct interpretation of the Law.” If he believed that his death would be an atoning or protecting sacrifice for the sins of Israel, then surely he considered his importance in more grandiose terms?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2018

            I don’t think we know waht Jesus said at his last meal.

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2018

          I don’t think we know what happened at Jesus’ final meal. In the *Gospels* of course he predicts his bloody death for hte salvation of others.

          • Avatar
            Stanislaw Ruczaj  February 1, 2018

            Thank you for your reply! Maybe you could write about it, sometime! What interests me especially is why the early Christians connected bread and wine with Jesus blood and body? This seems and odd way to express their faith in the salvific death of Jesus!

          • Bart
            Bart  February 2, 2018

            I think they made the connection because it was a Passover feast.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 31, 2018

        But…elsewhere, you *have* said you believe, or at least tend to believe, that Jesus saw himself as “a messiah figure who was going to rule as the new king of Israel, with his disciples ruling over the twelve tribes”! Which is it?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2018

          Yes, Jesus thought that when the kingdom of God arrived in power, he would be made the king.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 31, 2018

        And another thought: You’ve said Judas’s “betrayal” almost certainly involved his telling the authorities that Jesus was calling himself the future “King of the Jews.” And I’m almost sure you indicated that you thought Jesus *had* been doing that, when he was alone with his disciples.

        Or am I confused about what part of Apocryphile’s post you were replying to?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 1, 2018

          Yes, that’s what I’ve said. But I’ve never said Jesus thought he was teh cosmic son of man. That (other) one was coming from heaven to destroy th eforces of evil and set up God’s kingdom, over which Jesus would reign.

  18. Avatar
    Stephen  January 29, 2018

    Did Paul’s vision of the risen Jesus shape an apocalypticism of some flavor that already existed for Paul or did Paul become an apocalypticist as a result of his vision? Any way to tell?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Yes, Paul was almost certainly an apocalypticist before becoming a follower of Jesus. THat’s why he interpreted his vision of Jesus as a resurrection appearance — he already had the category of resurrection deeply ingrained in him.

  19. Avatar
    john76  January 29, 2018

    (i) Paul says “The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 5:14).”
    (ii) Mark says “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these (Mark 12:31).”
    – I wonder if maybe this idea of Paul about “loving your neighbor as fulfilling the commandments” was just “floating around the Christian communities” when Mark was writing, and so Mark maybe just put this idea of Paul’s on Jesus’ lips, and the historical Jesus never said such a thing?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Yes, it may also go back to Jesus. There were other Jewish teachers who held this view as well.

  20. Avatar
    ardeare  January 29, 2018

    I am going to use the Super Bowl as as a metaphor. God the Father is owner and head coach. Jesus is the offensive coordinator. He preaches to let your light shine before men in Matthew 5:16 and to persistently keep the commandments in Matthew 19:17. His defining message probably comes in Matthew 25:34-46 where he teaches people to be on the offensive in helping others. Indeed he understands that sometimes we will fumble, throw interceptions and commit penalties as seen in Mark: 10:18. But, he has a remedy; keep your head in the game Matthew 6:34, ask for forgiveness from the coach as seen in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and don’t give up in Matthew 24:13.

    Paul is the defensive coordinator. He teaches that a belief in the death and resurrection as seen in Romans 1:16-17 will alone bring salvation. If you fumble, get intercepted for a touchdown, or commit a penalty…………………they are sent to the replay booth where they are automatically overturned. Whether or not the offences were legitimate are unimportant because it has no bearing on the referee’s decision and points against you are erased. The question that I think many have pondered is: Are referee and scorekeeper the same as owner and coach?

    Well, there is one other question. Does Paul work for the New England Patriots? 🙂

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