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Jesus and Paul Compared and Contrasted

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.

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What Did Paul Know About the Historical Jesus?
Paul and Jesus



  1. Avatar
    Emmett  May 7, 2014

    One supremely important difference between Paul and Jesus is that Paul felt sufficiently strong in his convictions to put his words on paper in a campaign to get others to act as he did. The significance of Jesus’ absolute silence is always overlooked, most likely because it makes it easy to conceive of Paul as speaking the same language as Jesus. I’d wager most Christians don’t know what language Paul (or Jesus, for that matter!) spoke.

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    toddfrederick  May 8, 2014

    And now for an impossibly big big question….how are the views of Jesus and Paul similar and different from the mainline traditional “orthodox” theology as expressed by today’s pastors and persons in the pews?…

    …or to quote a past Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, (paraphrased), “The churches should do what they are supposed to do, get people into heaven, and stay out of politics.”

    Good comparison and essays, Bart.

  3. Avatar
    dfandray  May 8, 2014

    What are we to make of the fact that Paul’s writings apparently pre-date the Gospels? If Paul was a pivotal figure in the early Christian movement, wouldn’t the Gospel writers have been aware that Paul’s theology differed so dramatically from the theology of the Jesus whose story they were telling? If they were indeed aware of Paul, could they have been trying to set the record straight? Or was Paul not as important in the evolution of Christianity as we think he was? Perhaps he emerged as an important figure simply because his followers “won” and his letters survived while other documents didn’t. The chronology here has long puzzled me.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2014

      Mark seems to incorporate a good bit of Paul’s theology of the cross/resurrection. Luke, of course, saw Paul as his hero (book of Acts.) But there’s nothing to suggest any of them had read any of Paul’s letters. Maybe they were not yet in broad circulation?

  4. Avatar
    fishician  May 8, 2014

    Earlier today I was reflecting on the fact that in most (all?) churches I have attended over the years the teachings of Paul are featured in sermons and classes much more than the teachings of Jesus as found in the synoptic Gospels. I think your recent posts help to understand why. Still, isn’t it ironic that Paul’s ideas came to take precedence over those of the very person he claims is the Lord and Savior? But the early disciples had to make sense of Jesus’ death and the subsequent visions of him, and Paul apparently had the best explanation – better even than what Jesus had said!

  5. Robertus
    Robertus  May 8, 2014

    “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.”

    This portrait of Jesus and (his opposition to) the Pharisees that is contained in the Christian gospels is not a very fair portrait of Judaism in general or the Pharisees specifically:

    “In Jewish tradition saintliness (“ḥasidut”) is distinguished from holiness (“ḳedushah”), which is part of the Mosaic law. Saintliness is a divine and lofty type of piety, and a higher morality, not bound by law. Saintliness is “in front [outside] of the law boundary” (“lifenim mi-shurat ha-din”). Saintship (“middat ḥasidut”) is distinguished from mere obedience to the Law (B. M. 52b; Ḥul. 130b).”

    The first scholar of whom Pharisaic tradition has preserved not only the name but also an important theological doctrine. He flourished about the first half of the third century B.C. According to the Mishnah, he was the disciple and successor of Simon the Just. His motto ran: “Be not like slaves who serve their master for their daily rations; be like those who serve their master without regard to emoluments, and let the fear of God be with you” (Ab. i. 3; see Grätz, “Gesch d. Juden,” ii. 6, 239). Short as this maxim is, it contains the whole Pharisaic doctrine, which is very different from what it is usually conceived to be. Thus the first known Pharisee urges that good should be done for its own sake, and evil be avoided, without regard to consequences, whether advantageous or detrimental. The naïve conception dominant in the Old Testament, that God’s will must be done to obtain His favor in the shape of physical prosperity, is rejected by Antigonus, as well as the view, specifically called “Pharisaic,” which makes reward in the future life the motive for human virtue.

    When Paul explains (to Gentile Christians) that the Law was never intended to or able to save, he was not opposing the noblest views of Pharisees and Judaism, but rather was teaching as a Jew to Gentiles who were being presented with a less than worthy view of the Law. Paul’s view of the Law may have changed as a result of his conversion/calling, but his ‘new’ view should not be seen as opposed to the deeper insights of the Pharisees.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2014

      Yes, I agree. That’s why I said that they dismissed “what they *saw* as” Pharisaic teachings….

      • Robertus
        Robertus  May 8, 2014

        But why would one presume that the Christian scriptures accurately reflect Jesus as misunderstanding the deeper insights of the Pharisees? And, is it really necessary to interpret Paul as misunderstanding the Pharisees when there are perfectly valid interpretations of Paul that do not presume such a misunderstanding?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 9, 2014

          Jesus: because it is so widely and multiply/independently attested. Paul: it’s a judgment call, and after all my studies, that’s how I call it!

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 10, 2014

            Paul is our only source on 1st century Phariseeism; he claimed to be a Pharisee; and we supposedly understand the Pharisees better than he did such that we can critique his misunderstanding of the Pharisees? That’s pretty funny.

            There’s no mention of the Pharisees in the hypothetical Q source. Matthew and Luke are both dependent upon Mark. You cannot demonstrate that John, which is very late, was not at least ***indirectly*** dependent upon part of the synoptic tradition. You can hypothesize additional sources for Matthew and Luke that agree with Mark and each other and yet are totally independent, but that’s just more hypothetical sources. The gospel of Thomas, which is also very late, has two mentions of the Pharisees, but neither indicate any misunderstanding of their doctrine, just disagreement. That’s a pretty weak case for hypothetical independent attestation.

            I see no reason to believe that Paul, who claimed to be a Pharisee, or Jesus did not understand the Pharisees of their day. Paul may have been largely in agreement with them, perhaps differing on some or more points, but no indication that they did not understand the Pharisees. Jesus most certainly was opposed to at least some of Pharisees with respect to some part(s) of their doctrine, but exactly what did he misunderstand about the Pharisees of his day?

            Mark was written for a largely Gentile audience in Greek, some 40 years after Jesus death. All of our other sources are likewise in Greek (or Coptic), later and dependent upon Mark or possibly at least indirectly influenced by Mark. Is there any part of Mark or the later Greek and Coptic tradition that can be reliably attributed to Jesus himself and that shows that he misunderstood the Pharisees?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 10, 2014

            Yes, these are complicated issues. If you want to pursue them, you might consider Anthony Saldarini’s work on the Pharisees.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 11, 2014

            Thanks. Saldarini’s very brief chapter on Paul does not address whether or not Paul misunderstood the Pharisees.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 12, 2014

            I was thinking about his book. But I was simply providing some information if you wanted to dig deeper into what we know about Pharisees. What Paul thought about them *after* he converted is not necessarily what he thought about them before, and his views of them did not necessarily correlate with their views of themselves.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 13, 2014

            Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier if you just told us what exactly you think Paul misunderstood about the Pharisees? I would surely appreciate it.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 13, 2014

            Paul doesn’t ever refer to the teachings of the Pharisees except when he indicates that he was more advanced “in the traditions of the fathers” than others of his age before believing in Christ. So technically speaking there is no way of knowing what he understood or misunderstood about them. But he does seem to think that in the Jewish tradition it was held that keeping the Law is what established a right relationship with God (Romans 10:1-4). That was not a Jewish view so far as we know.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 14, 2014

            Paul certainly hoped for all Israel, including all Pharisees, that they might be enlightened by the/his understanding of Jesus Messiah, which clarified for him the path of faith that brings to light the righteousness that comes from faith, both for Abraham before the Law, and for all nations as the fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham. This was, for him, a messianic and eschatological event that fulfilled the deepest desire and need for God’s righteousness, to the Jew first and also for the nations. This is a righteousness that preceded and transcends the Law and, no doubt, differs in some ways from the righteousness of the Pharisees that did not recognize this eschatological fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and the Law, but it does not mean that Paul misunderstood the doctrines or halakah of the various schools of the Pharisees.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

            No, that in itself doesn’t mean he misunderstood them. But he talks about what “Jews” believe in ways that no Jew that we know of talked about. If you want to pursue the question, I’d suggestion looking at the classic work by E. P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 24, 2014

            I started reading Sanders back in 1989. I don’t think Paul was criticizing all Jews, but those who were pestering his Gentile communities, who may only have represented a faction within the various Judaisms of his time. I think the Qumran MMT document gives us some background from which to interpret Paul’s discussion of the ‘works of the law’ as pertaining to a particular aggressive approach to purity found at Qumran and presumably among some of the stricter Pharisees that idenified with a zealot approach to purity laws. Some Jewish Christians that had previously belonged to one of these schools of thought. The hypothesis by Abegg is worth considering. Even if we cannot prove anything that specific, something like it allows us to better appreciate Paul’s continued Judaism at the basis of his messianic vision and mission.

          • Avatar
            Ethereal  May 30, 2014

            Does Paul skew the interpretation of the curse on those who leave a man in a tree?? Referring to the the stauros. Whereas Paul said that the one left in the tree takes on the curse?

    • Avatar
      willow  May 8, 2014

      “Be not like slaves who serve their master for their daily rations; be like those who serve their master without regard to emoluments, and let the fear of God be with you”

      Thus the first known Pharisee urges that good should be done for its own sake, and evil be avoided, without regard to consequences, whether advantageous or detrimental.

      Most certainly I need to learn more, know more, about ANTIGONUS OF SOKO! Thank you, Robertus, for posting this.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  May 9, 2014

      “His motto ran: “Be not like slaves who serve their master for their daily rations; be like those who serve their master without regard to emoluments, and let the fear of God be with you” (Ab. i. 3; see Grätz, “Gesch d. Juden,” ii. 6, 239). Short as this maxim is, it contains the whole Pharisaic doctrine, which is very different from what it is usually conceived to be. Thus the first known Pharisee urges that good should be done for its own sake, and evil be avoided, without regard to consequences, whether advantageous or detrimental.”

      I don’t mean to give offense, but to me, that sounds like it’s saying believers should “serve their master” (God) not for the sake of what they might get in return – even such a minimum as “daily rations”! – but out of *fear*. I think of that as the *most* psychologically unhealthy way of relating to a deity.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  May 10, 2014

        No offense taken, but don’t disregard the part about: “the first known Pharisee urges that good should be done for its own sake”. That’s interpretation and not words directly attributed to Antigonus, but it is the common interpretation.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 10, 2014

          But it’s words he spoke after he was a follower of Jesus!

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 10, 2014

            No, we’re talking about the words of Antigonus of Soko, who lived in the 3rd century BCE. As far as I know, Jesus lived sometime in the 1st century CE.

  6. Avatar
    willow  May 8, 2014

    For Jesus, people could begin to experience what life would be like in the future kingdom if they would accept his teachings and begin to implement his understanding of the Jewish law in their lives.

    Can you imagine what life on this planet would be like if we all just did what it was Jesus said we are to do?

  7. Avatar
    madmargie  May 8, 2014

    You are correct in your assumption about the general public and Christianity as we now know it. I personally think they are enough differences that what is currently being practiced is Paul’s version of “Christianity”. …not that of the message of Jesus. I think the differences are very important. If Christians had been practicing Jesus’ message, we might be living in a more peaceful and loving world. Having been practicing Paul’s version the last two centuries, most Christians are more concerned with their “personal salvation” then with the welfare of their neighbor. And we live in an even more violent world.

    • Avatar
      Emmett  May 9, 2014

      He didn’t have too much of a consistent message, which is why no Christian can be said to be closely following Jesus. In the synoptic gospels, he’s usually very upset that people don’t properly interpret his miracles as signs of a coming paradise on Earth nor his parables as paragons of rhetorical excellence. He’s not the kind of guy you’d want to have a bagel and a cup of coffee with.

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 8, 2014

    This has been an excellent series of posts. Thanks
    Add in the divine killing message of the jealous and angry God of the Old Testament to contrast with the message of Jesus and the message of Paul and you have the making of a new book. All you need is a good title.
    I am glad to see you rebound from all of the recent criticism of your new book and move on. I am certain that I could not have done the same or as well.
    I still would like to see you combine a lot of your work into a single book addressing “Is the Bible Inerrant?” elaborating in one place all of the arguments about divine killing, legendary material, illogical material, contradictions, significant omissions in various Gospels, difficult to understand writing which seems anything but inspired, authorship questions, canonization issues, and textual problems all in one place. We really need to have such a book to help us move away from the evils and dogmatic certainty that result from this inerrant interpretation of the Bible.

  9. Avatar
    yes_hua  May 8, 2014

    Sorry. New to the site so I have a back log of questions. Love it though.
    1. If you’ve dealt with the prior questions elsewhere, can you direct me to the answers?
    a. What was Paul’s message re ‘repent and be baptized’?
    b. Is there a cosmic line of succession to redeem us? Seems God was here, then the prophets, then John cleared the way for one ‘who’s sandals he was unworthy to carry’, then Jesus, then the ‘Son of Man’…

    2. Do the differences between Acts and Paul’s own letters, the ones we really think were his, confuse anyone else as much as they do me? As a former Christian I realize how good I was at synthesizing texts to make them fit into one picture. But now when I hear a Christian conflate Paul’s Damascus experience with something he says in his letters, it infuriates me because I feel they are being disingenuous. I feel you deal mainly with Paul of his letters, but most people like the softened Paul portrayal Luke gives us. Have you dealt with that?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2014

      Paul does not tell people to repent, but to have faith. Big difference! Your 1b is a theological question that I’m not qualified to answer, as a historian, not a theologian. On Acts and Paul, yes there are differences. Look for my posts on the Historicity of Acts (search function: click on the magnifying glass on the top right of your screen from the home page)

      • Avatar
        willow  May 9, 2014

        Paul does not tell people to repent, but to have faith.

        This is the most major difference there is between Jesus and Paul, I believe.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  May 9, 2014

        As a good Jew, Paul certainly understood and taught the importance of repentance. See, for example:

        Romans 2,4-5:
        Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

        2 Corinthians 7-9-10:
        For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.

        2 Corinthians 12,21:
        I fear that when I come again, my God may humble me before you, and that I may have to mourn over many who previously sinned and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and licentiousness that they have practiced.

        Other passages that could be cited that do not use the word ‘repent’ but convey the same idea, for example:

        Romans 8:5:
        For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

        Romans 12,1-2:
        I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.

        1 Corinthians 15,34:
        Come to a sober and right mind, and sin no more; for some people have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.

        • Avatar
          willow  May 16, 2014

          Sorry I missed your response, Robertus, and thank you for it. But am still rather torn in my understanding, for did not Paul also say in Acts 16:30-31, when asked what one must do to be saved, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” He says nothing of repentance here, and in fact only mentions repentance but a handful of times (5) throughout all of his writings, and what, might I ask does Paul expect people to repent of (in those references he makes to it) if not how it is that they live their lives, which is made right or wrong according to the law of which he says, “”Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19,20.

          Also, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded, By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Romans 3:27,28.

          Again, what is it that he expects man to repent of if not violations of the law, the law he seems to indicate no longer applies and by it no man can be justified, which is the exact opposite of that which Jesus said/taught, “If you want to enter into eternal life, keep the Commandments.”

          “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill (keep/carry out). For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the Law till all (heaven and earth) is fulfilled (come to pass). Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-19

          Paul was a good Jew? How so? Did he not teach against such things as the law and circumcision?

          In Romans 4:1-3 Paul says of Abraham, “What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”

          In Galatians he writes: “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to everyman who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law: you have fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:2-4

          Do you get what I’m trying to say? (I know I can be difficult, and apologize for it). But, what is sin if not violation of the law, the precepts and principles set before us by God, and what is repentance if not change in the ways in which we conduct our lives, albeit through a change of one’s mind, and a coming into compliance with the law, which Paul says no man can keep nor can any man be justified by it.

          Repentance (change) leads to compliance (to the law) through which, according to Paul, no man can be saved. This is my understanding of Paul.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 24, 2014

            No need to apologize. Acts is written by Luke, from which a single line should not be used to interpret Paul’s theology. Antinomian interpretations of Paul also do not work well when reading the very positive things Paul continues to say about the law. Prostestant interpretations of Paul and Judaism aside, no good Jew at the time would have thought that salvation comes from one’s own efforts to follow the law, especially the purity commands, but rather God’s gracious gift of the law should be followed in response to God who saved them as a God’s chosen people, to whom he entrusted the law, which was ultimately for all nations. The purity commands were especially important for the priests, and separatist priests, Pharisees who who wished to extend them to all people in their daily lives, but who were still separtists in their philosophy with respect to the common people who were not so attentive to all the purity laws. Jesus (and Paul eventually ) embraced these people.

            Paul has a very similar understanding to Jesus when it comes to how the law is to be fulfilled (Gal 5,14): “For the whole law is fulfilled in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Paul taught against circumcision for Gentil Christians; we’re not sure what he taught concerning circumcision among Jewish Christians and many think Paul would have continued to endorse circumcision for Jewish Christians. I’m not sure of this. He was a good Jew who believed that the Messiah had come and had brought a messianic Torah (the law of Christ, Gal 6,2), which, as far as we know, might well have rendered physical circumcision no longer important. For Paul, the messianic Kingodm of God is not about eating and drinking. Could not a Jew who believed in a messianic Torah, fullfilling promises given to Abraham long before the giving of the law, incorporating all the nations into the people of God, have thought that it was no longer necessary for the Jews to express their unique identity through various marks of Jewish identity. For Paul, salvation is for the Jew first and then the Greek (1,16 2,9-10). This was for him a very Jewish idea dating back to God’s promise to Abraham.

      • Avatar
        yes_hua  May 14, 2014

        Excellent! Thanks.

  10. Avatar
    jhague  May 8, 2014

    • Both Jesus and Paul were born and raised Jewish, and neither one of them saw himself as departing from the truth of Judaism and the Jewish God. They both understood that they were proclaiming the “true” form of Judaism. Neither of them thought they were staring a “new religion.”

    If Paul truly had an understanding of Judaism, I think he had to know he was changing it. He was certainly told that he was not preaching the correct Jewish message by the Jesus Movement Jews. He changed it so that he could pull Gentiles into to a religion. He changed it enough so that it was a new religion…whether he owned up to it or not.

    • Both Jesus and Paul proclaimed an apocalyptic message rooted in the categories of Jewish apocalypticism, which understood that the current age was ruled by the forces of evil, but a new age was coming in which God would destroy the forces of evil and bring in a utopian kingdom here on earth.

    Are Paul’s teachings about a kingdom here on earth or does he teach that believers will be taken to heaven?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2014

      I thin any time someone thinks that they now have the *right* understanding of a religion, they are of necessity “changing” it. On your question: I wish I knew! Paul seems to give mixed messages on this point. My guess is that he thought there was an interim state in heaven before the kingdom arrived on earth.

      • Avatar
        jhague  October 29, 2014

        Please give me your thoughts regarding these statements:
        – Paul was not ever a practicing Jew
        – He fabricated his credentials including be a Pharisee
        – He had more in common with his Gentile friends in the diaspora than with other Jews
        – The story about him traveling to Damascus to arrest Jesus Movement Jews does not make sense
        – He accepted teachings from someone in the diaspora after Jesus’ death
        – He fabricated a vision of the Christ to give himself authority as an apostle (he states that his message was not given to him by any man)
        – He created his Christ based religion in order to attract non-Jews by removing the strict requirements
        – He utilized Hellenistic Judaism and the mystery religions to mold his thinking
        – He was obsessed with apocalyptic beliefs and was delusional in many ways including his story of being taken to the third heaven and paradise

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2014

          I disagree with most of them. I have a lengthy discussion of Paul in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

          • Avatar
            jhague  October 30, 2014

            If you have time, please indicate the points you agree with. I will also read your book. I have not read this one yet.

            My thought is that it is very unlikely that an educated Pharisee among Pharisees would make such a radical change in his religious life. It’s unusual (or uncomfortable) for people to make a major religious change today.

            Also, people have always had a tendency to embellish their credentials when speaking about themselves and Paul had every reason to do so.

            Delusion is the only way I know to explain someone thinking that a rapture is going to happen in his lifetime after he has went to the third heaven and paradise (whatever that means).

            His goal was obviously to create a religion that the gentiles would join and he needed it to have connection to a respected historical religion such as Judaism.


          • Bart
            Bart  October 31, 2014

            Paul was certainly a practicing Jew. There is nothing to suggest he fabricated his claim to be a Pharisee. And he had far more in common with diaspora Jews than with pagans. I think the story of the road to damascus is legendary, but I’m not sure it “makes no sense.” etc….

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 1, 2014

            Thanks for the reply. I agree the road to Damascas story is legendary. What I mean by it doesn’t make sense is why would a Pharisee work with the high priest to arrest other Jews outside of the high priest’s jurisdiction?

            Historically, how many Pharisees do we know of who completely do a 180 on Judaism?

            It seems that at least Paul’s lord’s supper came from the mystery religions, certainly not Judaism.

            I know Paul lived in a much different time, but if a preacher today talked about visions and heavenly trips, he would be declared crazy by most people.

            If Paul really did meet with the Jerusalem church leaders, it appears he said a much different message to them than to his converts.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 1, 2014

            Yes, getting permission from the high priest to persecute Christians in Damascus — I agree, that is highly problematic.

            There are numerous instances in various religions of 180 degree conversion. But in antiquity they’re harder to find because we have so few surviving materials.

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 3, 2014

            I’m sorry to stay on this topic but I struggle trying to figure out Paul due to many issues that appear to be problematic.
            I know the way I am thinking takes us way from the historian view, but do you have any opinions on how a practicing Jewish Pharisee came about to completely disregard Torah, etc. and claim authority via visions and cosmic trip to heaven? To me, it always seems like we are missing a big part of the story and need to fill in the blanks with some assumptions. (I will read your Peter, Paul & Mary Magdalene book. Just looking for a quick thought here.)

          • Bart
            Bart  November 4, 2014

            There have always been Jewish mystics — Paul wasn’t the only one! And he never thought that he did abandon Torah. He believed that Christ fulfilled the meaning of Torah and that he, Paul, was following true Judaism.

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            jhague  November 4, 2014

            Thank you for the replies. You give Paul more credit than I do. Based on what we know and what we have to assume due to the blanks and contradictory problems, I think Paul fabricated much of what he said. I think he fabricated the vision and cosmic trip stories to give himself authority to say the things he was saying as a self-named apostle. I think he fabricated calling himself a Pharisee to connect himself with a group of highly respected Jewish leaders and to tie his new religion to an existing religion that was respected by the god fearing gentiles. I think he changed the definition of messiah using the Greek title Christ to suit his needs for his message to the gentiles. I think he made up his message as he went from church to church and answered their questions. I think he knew that he was starting a new religion that he wanted connected to the Jesus Movement Jews in Jerusalem. Since he was actually starting a new religion, he limited his meetings with the Jerusalem church leaders. When he did meet with them, he misled them to make them think that he was still falling Judaism as they did. I think that Paul was not much different than someone who starts a new church today. He was looking for what he perceived as power and glory to himself.
            Obviously I have to make assumptions and take liberties to come to these conclusions. But when I try to give Paul more credit, I think there are too many problematic issues that do not seem to be able to be answered. Paul was in conflict with the Jerusalem church because he was working against them but trying to act like he was part of them.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 5, 2014

            Well, it’s certainly possible. But as a historian I try to look for evidence; otherwise I’m afraid I’ll just go with whatever (conspiracy?) theory simply suits my fancy! I personally don’t think Paul was a flat-out liar, even though I disagree with him about so many things (OK, most things).

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            jhague  November 6, 2014

            Yes. I agree Paul’s not a flat out liar. Most modern preachers might not admit it but they take “liberties” with their stories. They adapt the stories they tell so that the story fits with the point being made in their sermon. I think that’s what Paul did. I think there must have been a notion going around in the 1st century that an apostle had to have met and been taught by Jesus in order to be considered an apostle. Paul had not seen or been taught by Jesus so he created a vision story that his uneducated listeners might believe and agree he was an apostle. Still he seemed to receive resistance to his story just like someone today would receive resistance if a vision story was told.

            One final question (don’t believe that!). Wouldn’t it have been difficult for a Jew living in the diaspora to receive training to become a Pharisee? Was that type of training normally received in Jerusalem? Where did most Pharisees live? (Is that three questions? haha)

          • Bart
            Bart  November 6, 2014

            I’ve often wondered about that (those) as well, and don’t know the answer(s). But my sense is that Pharisaic approaches were known in the diaspora (since Jews regularly traveled to and from Judea)

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          jhague  December 18, 2014

          I’m back on the Paul subject. I finished the Paul section in Peter Paul & Mary.
          It seems that Paul spends a great deal of time defending himself. This must mean that many did not believe his message and did not believe Paul was who he claimed to be. I think about how a Paul would be perceived today. Most would not believe a message received from a cosmic vision. Regardless of Paul’s claim that he received a heavenly message that Christ has fulfilled the meaning of Torah, everything he says seems to be made up. Or at best, his attempt to combine some of the attributes of the mystery religions with Judaism so that he could convert Gentiles to his religion. Most of the time, Paul seems to be defending himself and embellishing his credentials to anyone who will listen. It seems that from what Paul says himself that he for some reason he was in Damascus. There he was introduced to a version of the Jesus movement that had been combined with aspects of a mystery religion. Paul went to Arabia to pull together his thoughts regarding his previous Jewish beliefs and the new belief he was considering. This process was not instantaneous but took Paul three years to comprehend. He then found out quickly that most Jews were not going to give him audience so he made it his mission to convert Gentiles. When he needed to enhance himself to convince others regarding his message, he created a vision or a trip to the third heaven so that he had the authority that he needed. Paul successfully started the longest lasting mystery religion. What are your thoughts on any of this?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 19, 2014

            I think it’s hard to know if Paul’s version of Christianity wsa made on the model of a mystery religion. The reality is that we know so *little* about the mystery religions that there is little basis for judgment. And I don’t think Paul made up a vision he had. My sense is that he had one.

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            jhague  December 19, 2014

            My thought with Paul’s connection to a mystery religion is his addition of a communion service related to a dying/rising demi-god and partaking of his symbolic flesh and blood.
            Regarding Paul’s vision, do you think that he had such an elaborate vision that he learned everything he needed to regarding his new religious beliefs? Did this vision just happen, did he have a grand mal seizure? Did he have some other mental or physical breakdown? I know we don’t know the answers to these questions but it seems very convenient for Paul to be able to claim having seen the risen Christ in a way that he could not prove. Everything Paul says has to be taken at his word due to a vision and cosmic trip. This is certainly one of the reasons why Paul was always on the defensive. Perhaps he was on hallucinogenic drugs. In any case, it also seems that even though he states that he never left Judaism (even though his words and actions show that he did) and he states that he did not receive his message from any man including the ignorant apostles in Jerusalem, he must have been with someone for three years in Arabia. He must have been listening and studying with a group that led him to join them in their new mission to the gentiles.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 20, 2014

            On mystery religions in relation to Paul (dying/rising gods, etc.) you may want to read my discussion in Did Jesus Exist.

            I discuss Paul’s vision at length in How Jesus Became God. Like lots of other people have done (one out of eight of us), he saw a deceased figure in a vision. He took it from there and reasoned out the theological consequences.

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            jhague  December 22, 2014

            If one out of eight have seen a deceased figure in a vision how many people “claim” to have seen a deceased person in a vision but are likely making it up? I’m guessing a higher percentage.
            Also, when people say they have seen a vision of a deceased person, is it usually a loved one that has passed away? Not someone you’ve never met?

          • Bart
            Bart  December 23, 2014

            The two most common sorts of visoins are of deceased loved ones and of important religious figures. The Blessed Virgin Mary shows up all the time, sometimes to people who have never accepted her.

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            jhague  December 23, 2014

            Yes. I remember that from your book now. I know I’m hard on Paul but I keep trying to figure out what all the problematic issues regarding Paul really mean. I know this leaves the historical process behind and I know that times were much different 2000 years ago. But some personality traits were certainly the same and even more misunderstood than now.

            Even if ministers today seem sincere, many of them also seem to exhibit personality disorders and seem to be delusional about reality. This mental instability seems to be able to be hidden in the church much better than can be hidden in the business word. (Although I have also read stories about it being hidden in the business world.) A minister that is prolific and charismatic while also dictatorial and delusional looks spiritual and obedient to some church people. The quirkiness is mistaken for spirituality and obedience to God. The ministers have the ability to be deceivingly compassionate one minute and intensely angry at anything and everyone the next. They don’t like to be contradicted, corrected nor have their mental processes questioned. I know I’m generalizing here but church goers, who have accurate perceptions about the mental instability of people at work, lose that instinct at church. The quirkiness at work becomes a spiritually desirable trait in church.

            As I read Paul’s letters, it seems that he was very much like ministers today. He exaggerated his credentials, enhanced his experiences, beliefs had to be his way or it was the wrong way, he became angry and flew off the handle easily. So I do not believe he had a vision of the Christ or went to the third heaven in a vision any more than if someone today said it. I think Paul likely fabricated the visions so that he could claim that he was an apostle. He also believed that his vision of the Christ was superior to those that knew Jesus partly, or mostly, due to his own superior upbringing and education. Especially when compared to illiterate peasants from Galilee. I think this is how he viewed the leaders of the Jerusalem church and why he did not associate with them. Alos because his beliefs were so different than theirs.

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    drdavid600  May 8, 2014

    I think it is so significant that Paul hardly ever quotes Jesus. Paul describes his teaching as coming from revelation, enough that I’ve always thought he had ongoing revelations, not just the road to Damascus. Were his revelations all experienced as from Jesus or Spirit, so he didn’t need to come up with historical words from Jesus?

    What was baptism in the spirit, really? Was it so overwhelming that listening to stories of Jesus’ earthly teachings paled in comparison? I wish we had the straight story about any of this, but that wasn’t their agenda.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 8, 2014

      That’s the new thread!

      Baptism in the spirit meant entering into the Spirit, as the Spirit entered into you, when you were baptized.

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        Rosekeister  May 10, 2014

        As part of that thread could you include what it means that several times in Acts it is mentioned that there were communities who received the baptism of John which did not include the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Where would these communities have come from?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 10, 2014

          They were followers of John the Baptist after his death who had not received Christian baptism.

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    Steefen  May 8, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman: Both Jesus and Paul taught the ultimate need of faith and saw the love one’s neighbor as the summing up and fulfilling of the law, as the most important thing the followers of God could do.

    Steefen: When a person doesn’t mention the element of self-awareness, self-examination, moral compass, and REPENTENCE (have remorse for wrongdoing/s)/CONFESS, John the Baptist is really missing in what you put forth above. Repent/have remorse for falling short of the moral compass/confess/ask for forgiveness is big enough that the founders of Christianity are not just Jesus and Paul but John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul.

    This thread could have been titled John the Baptist and Jesus Compared with Paul.

    Dr. Ehrman: So, are Jesus and Paul more alike or more different?

    Steefen: John the Baptist and Jesus will get you saved moreso than Paul. What? Paul is saying have faith in a death and a resurrection–the lives of people are weighed on that scale? I don’t want life reduced to that. That’s not my social contract.

  13. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  May 18, 2014

    “….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 Paul claims that it is his Gospel and that he received it from no man. I know there are many who disagree with the following view but it seems to me that a Jew would have to have been a very Hellenized Jew to believe there could be a “middle man” between man and God and that immortality could be found by believing in a killed and then risen divine or semi-divine figure. Being as how Jesus, James, and the other were Galilean Jews and very likely way less Hellenized than Paul from Tarsus, it would seem that the Apostles would actually have agreed more with Jesus than they would have Paul. So who was it that could have passed on any proto-Christian teaching to Paul? That kind leaves Paul standing there alone at the beginning point of Christianity. I’d appreciate your comments, Bart.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2014

      I don’t think Paul can possibly mean that he got all the points of his theology straight from Jesus. In the context of his remarks he indicates that it was his “gospel” about Gentiles coming to faith that he learned. You may be interested in my discussion in How Jesus Became God about how the earliest (non-Hellenized) Jewish followers of Jesus came to believe in his death and resurrection.

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