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More on Jesus’ Teachings in Paul

I have been talking about Paul’s knowledge of the historical Jesus, and yesterday began a discussion of what Paul clearly knew about Jesus’ teachings.   That’s where I will pick up here.   Again, I have taken the discussion from my book Did Jesus Exist?, so the orientation of what I have to say is toward showing that Paul provides solid (and for my mind, virtually incontrovertible) evidence that Jesus was not simply “made up” but was an actual historical figure – an issue that, for most people in the universe of intelligent humans, is not much of an issue, but which is disputed by that tiny but oh-so-vocal group of “mythicists” about which I have said some things before.   In any event, there are a few more interesting aspects of the question of Paul’s use of Jesus’ teachings, as follows:

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Why Doesn’t Paul Say More About Jesus?
Paul’s References to Jesus’ Teachings

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    SJB  May 14, 2014

    Could 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 be a memory of a saying of Jesus that originally described the coming of the Son of Man that was then adapted to describe Jesus himself after his death and resurrection “appearances” since they now considered Jesus himself to be the Son of Man? In that case it would have truly been a “word of the Lord” just filtered through a post-Easter context.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

      Could be! But so much of the saying is about Jesus himself (the dead in Christ, etc.) that it would have to have been changed a lot.

  2. Avatar
    JEffler  May 14, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I was curious as to your thoughts on Paul quoting Jesus at the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:25? How come this isn’t something that you quoted as him quoting Jesus?

    “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

    Justin

  3. Avatar
    gavriel  May 14, 2014

    Maybe you have commented on this some place, but I couldn’t find it: In Gal 2:10 Paul narrates that he from the pillars of the church received the instruction to “remember the poor”. What does it mean? Is it a request to support someone in the Jerusalem community financially as part of the deal , or some more general ethical instruction? Or both?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

      Yes, it almost certainly means that they should give alms to the poor.

      • Avatar
        gavriel  May 15, 2014

        But wouldn’t that be a very clear parallel to several Gospel traditions? In many places Jesus is said to say something about giving to the poor, often as part of more complex sayings. For instance Matt 6:2, Matt 19:21, Mark 14:5, but also directly in Luke 11:41.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

          A parallel between Jesus’ teachings and Paul’s does not necessarily mean that Paul is quoting Jesus.

          • Avatar
            gavriel  May 17, 2014

            He’s quoting “the pillars!

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  April 29, 2019

        Dr Ehrman –

        I had always interpreted “the pillars” admonition to Paul in Galatians to “remember the poor” as a generic call to help the less fortunate. And it fit into Paul’s professed sense that this was part of his mission (“eager to do” in Galatians, references in other Epistles) as well as the broader focus on ‘the poor’ in Jesus’s teachings (plus being viewed as part of the Messianic signs in Q that JB’s disciples were instructed to tell the incarcerated JB about Jesus). At the same time, I had glossed over the numerous references in Paul where he discussed bringing aid to the “saints in Jerusalem” from the gentile communities Paul founded/visited, including the gospel checking and funds transfer during the trip to Jerusalem in Galatians.

        And then something hit me regarding the range of the term ‘the poor’, once I realized that the Jerusalem church itself was heavily populated by the poor, including the pillars themselves (who presumably dropped everything to follow Jesus). The call to “remember the poor” was thus not just a broad admonition to help the generic poor, but was also a request to continue funding the Jerusalem church community – which Paul had just done, was eager to do, and was asked to continue doing. And Paul himself says he continued to do so – with his various fundraising efforts for the “saints in Jerusalem” from the gentile Christian communities.

        A couple questions:
        1. The remember the poor admonition appears to, at the very least, have contained a self-interested aspect?
        2. Paul said the pillars had extended him the right hand of fellowship because of his gospel message. But that narrowly defined construal neglects that, amongst other things, Paul was also a periodic source of funding for the livelihoods of the pillars?

        Altruism v self interest on the one hand, and gospel message alignment v paid licensure on the other – these “dichotomies” are not actually mutually exclusive, and the interpretation above is not necessarily a nefarious one. But at the least the facts suggest that the underlying economic reality here was more complex than is often portrayed. Curious your reaction – does this analysis hang together?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 30, 2019

          1. I think the poor means the impoverished Christians on his misison field 2. We know of only one time Paul provided funds for the Jerusalem church (his “collection”), and nothing indicates it was for the benefit of the pillars themselves. But yes, the economic situation was certainly complex, and we’re able to see only the survace of it.

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  April 30, 2019

            Thanks a ton!

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 14, 2014

    If people will not to rise from the dead until Jesus returns, does this mean that, according to the Bible, there is no heaven until Jesus returns and people (like Dr. Eben Alexander and the 4-yeat-old in “Heaven is for Real”) really could not have had near death experiences where they saw heaven since heaven does not exist yet?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

      I’m afraid different authors of the Bible appear to have different answers to that question.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 14, 2014

    P.S. I saw the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” on the Smithsonian channel last night and have read on several websites about it including on Dr. Tabor’s website. I guess the current view, from carbon dating and ink tests, is that it was copied during the sixth to the eighth centuries from an earlier text. Do you agree with this analysis? If so, I guess it suggests that at least some early Christians believed that Jesus was married unless that culture had its own budding Dan Brown.

  6. cheito
    cheito  May 15, 2014

    DR EHRMAN:

    YOUR COMMENT:

    Paul knew of a tradition in which the historical Jesus allegedly did discuss this matter, or he has learned this teaching through a prophecy in one of his churches.
    At the end of the day I think it is impossible to decide between these two options.

    MY COMMENT:

    Paul did receive from ‘eyewitnesses’ testimony about the teachings of Christ. However I believe that Paul’s primary source for what he knew about Christ was Jesus Himself. The testimony of Peter, James, and others who were ‘eyewitnesses’ of the resurrection of Christ only confirmed to Paul what Jesus had already taught him. Paul did not consult immediately with the other apostles as he states in Galatians 1:16. He waited 3 years. In Galatians 1:11,12, Paul claims to have been taught the message that He was preaching by Christ Himself and not by men. He claims in 1 Corinthians 15:7 to have met the Lord personally. Paul’s source for the knowledge of the Lord was the Lord Himself. Jesus literally appeared to him, spoke to Him and personally taught him. Therefore Paul can say to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess 2:13 that what he was speaking was the very word of God. His primary source was not prophecies declared in churches nor testimony from the other apostles but The very words of the resurrected Lord!

    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

    1 Thessalonians 2:13-For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.

    Galatians 1:11-For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12-For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    Galatians 1:15-But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16-to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17-nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18-Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. 19-But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20-(Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)

    YOUR COMMENT:

    The problem in this passage, though, is that there are solid reasons, including some manuscript evidence, to suggest that the injunction for women not to speak was not originally part of 1 Corinthians, but was added by later scribes.

    MY QUESTION:

    What manuscript evidence are you referring to DR EHRMAN?
    I’ve also suspected that those verses there in 1 Corinth about women keeping silent were added on.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

      There’s no manuscript evidence, but it’s a widely held view. I’d suggest your read Gordon Fee’s commentary for openers.

      • cheito
        cheito  May 17, 2014

        Thank you for your reply DR Ehrman.

        Blessings!

  7. Avatar
    Pofarmer  May 19, 2014

    “For this we say to you by a word of the Lord, that we who are living who are left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ will rise first….”    For Paul, those who had already died would meet the Lord first, to be immediately followed by those who had not yet died.  And he learned this from a “word of the Lord.””

    Is it just me, or is that passage of a type,that would be right at home in Revelation?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 19, 2014

      Many people have thought so! But one of the most amazing and widely unknown things about the book of Revelation (outside the realm of scholars) is that there is NO RAPTURE in it. No return of Jesus to take his followers out of this world. That is imported into the book by readers, but nowhere to be found in it!

      • Avatar
        Pofarmer  May 20, 2014

        Looks like I have a reading assignment. It’s just that some of Pauls ideas and writings about Jesus seem to me to mirror some of the ideas found in the book of Revelation.

  8. Avatar
    madmargie  June 3, 2014

    What is your opinion of the book of Acts, Dr. Ehrman? Is it credible at all?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 4, 2014

      I have some posts on it. My view is that many of its broad strokes are historically accurate, but some are not and many, many of the details are not.

  9. Avatar
    shakespeare66  August 5, 2015

    The question of Paul not writing more about Jesus is an intriguing one. Why would he not write more about the guy who he based his teachings on? Perhaps he was not as aware of Christ as we thought.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 6, 2015

      It’s one of the options. Several others. I detail them in my book Peter Paul and Mary Magdalene.

  10. Avatar
    jhague  December 29, 2017

    “And he learned this from a “word of the Lord.””

    “So there are two choices here: either Paul knew of a tradition in which the historical Jesus allegedly did discuss this matter, or he has learned this teaching through a prophecy in one of his churches.”

    I agree that Paul either knew of a Jesus saying tradition or learned it through a prophecy in one of his churches. But Paul never seems to say this. He seems to always say that he got it from the Lord, from Christ or from Christ Jesus. He also indicates in Gal 1:11-12, For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
    Since Paul was taught by a human source and got the saying of Jesus that he uses from tradition or from church prophecy, what can be said of Paul stating that everything he says came to him from the Lord?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      I read these two passages differently. In Gal. 1 he’s talking about his Gospel message — not a specific saying of Jesus; he is referring to the latter kind of thing in 1 Cor. 11. That’s why he calls it a “word” of the Lord rather than a “revelation” or a “message.” It’s a specific teaching.

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