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Paul and the Historical Jesus

In this thread I have been talking about what I discussed in my thirty-minute presentation at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price.  After pointing out a couple of problems with typical Mythicist arguments I devoted the bulk of my time to laying out the positive evidence for my view that whatever else you might want to say about him, Jesus of Nazareth certainly existed as a real human being.  In my last post I stressed the value of the Gospels, and their written and oral sources of information.  There were lots and lots of sources, from the early days of the Christian movement, some of them coming straight out of Aramaic-speaking Palestine.  It is almost impossible to explain how you could have so many independent sources saying similar things about the man Jesus unless he really was a historical figure.

But there is much more.  Next in my talk I moved to the apostle Paul, obviously a key figure in the debate.  There are thirteen letters written in Paul’s name in the New Testament.  Six of these are widely considered to be pseudonymous – written by authors other than Paul, probably after his life.  But that leaves seven letters that Paul himself almost certainly wrote, and in these letters it is quite clear – contrary to what people sometimes say, strangely – that Paul considered Jesus to be a real historical person.

The first point to stress in this connection is that …

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Paul’s Acquaintances: Jesus’ Disciples and Brother
What Can We Do About Presuppositions?



  1. Avatar
    JR  November 1, 2016

    Good points. But william lane craig mathematically proved in his debate with you that Jesus was real and was resurrected – so you could have just pulled out the numbers on them! Or maybe not …

  2. Avatar
    davitako  November 1, 2016


    If Matthew and Luke were indeed based on the Q Source and M and L respectively, that alone would show an abundance of sources within just two-three decades after Jesus’s death. However, some scholars have argued that Luke might actually have used Matthew and there was no Q Source (referring to the book, “Case Against Q”).

    I have read arguments for Q in your book, The New Testament and it made sense to me. What is your personal opinion, do you think there must have been a Q source? Or could Luke have used Matthew directly? What book/work would you suggest to get a better idea about all this?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      Yes, I think on balance it appears there was a written Q source. If Luke used matthew, it leaves too much unexplained (like why he rearranges all of Matthew’s story not also found in Mark)

      • Avatar
        Scott  November 3, 2016

        If Q material is arranged differently in Matthew and Luke, that still leaves one author (or both) “inexplicably” rearranging material from a source 🙂

        Even if Luke really did use Matthew, that would leave us with Mark, M, L and John instead of Mark, Q, M, L and John. Still plenty of sources.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          It may be hard (though not impossible) to explain if Q had a narrative sequence. But if it mainly was a group of unconnected sayings (like Thomas, e.g.), then it’s easy to see how different authors would situate the sayings in different sequences of their narrative.

          • Avatar
            Luke9733  November 13, 2016

            Out of curiosity, is there a good, go-to reference to see all of the Q sayings and see how Luke words them paired with how Matthew words them? A lot of times, I’ll see Q sayings referenced, but the author will just quote one version and sometimes won’t cite which version of the saying they’re quoting or where the parallels can be found in each Gospel.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 13, 2016

            Go to Amazon and search for Synopsis of Q.

  3. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  November 1, 2016

    One of the issues I have seen raised about the historical Jesus was how well known was he during his ministry? I have read all sorts of views on this subject ranging from he was a household name, at least throughout Judea, or that he was virtually unknown during his life time and his following was quite small.

    Can anything be garnered through Paul’s writing to how well known or “famous” Jesus was during his ministry and what is your position on the “fame” of Jesus during his ministry? I think any evidence to the popularity of the historical Jesus may disprove some of the Mythicist arguments.

  4. Avatar
    moose  November 1, 2016

    But, Mr. Ehrman. Isn’t there an important question concerning Paul that have to be answered first. What do we know about Saul / Paul? And Isn’t this a question that should be taken seriously?

    We know that Paul was originally named Saul. We know that he was of the tribe of Benjamin. We know he persecuted the church. We know he converted after he had a vision of Jesus, where Jesus said “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
    We know he named himself “the least of the apostles” and “one abnormally born”. And we know that Paul was saved by Grace not Works.

    It does not take too much imagination to see that this is strikingly similar to when King Saul persecuted David, and David was yelling “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” King Saul was rejected by the Lord for his deeds, and the only way he could be saved was by grace.

    Look what Tertullian have to say about Paul. Tertullian “Against Marcion” Book 5

    “Because even the book of Genesis so long ago promised me the Apostle Paul. For among the types and prophetic blessings which he pronounced over his sons, Jacob, when he turned his attention to Benjamin, exclaimed, «Benjamin shall ravin as a wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall impart nourishment.» He foresaw that Paul would arise out of the tribe of Benjamin, a voracious wolf, devouring his prey in the morning: in order words, in the early period of his life he would devastate the Lord’s sheep, as a persecutor of the churches; but in the evening he would give them nourishment, which means that in his declining years he would educate the fold of Christ, as the teacher of the Gentiles. Then, again, in Saul’s conduct towards David, exhibited first in violent persecution of him, and then in remorse and reparation, on his receiving from him good for evil, we have nothing else than an anticipation of Paul in Saul— belonging, too, as they did, to the same tribe— and of Jesus in David, from whom He descended according to the Virgin’s genealogy”.

    “Paul in Saul” it says. Saved by Grace.
    And why no? We know of Cainites – Why not Saulites?

    • Avatar
      moose  November 1, 2016

      I just wanted to add something regarding Cephas in the Galatians: “For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group”.

      Assuming Cephas is intended as an idiom for Moses, then this text can be easily explained.
      Because Moses lived his first 40 years with the Pharaoh of Egypt. He ate with the Gentils for 40 year.
      Then one day Moses went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”
      14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known.”
      Then Moses escaped(draw back) to Midian.
      Galatians: “But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group”.

      • Avatar
        VincitOmniaVeritas  November 10, 2016

        You need to remember that Cephas/Peter was originally named Simon, as mentioned in the Gospels. Simon was a known common name for religious figures, followers and zealots in Galilea between 1 and 45 AD, specifically mentioned by Josephus in AJ. Cephas/Peter was clearly a later title given by Jesus and his followers to him.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      Yes indeed, it is of utmost importance to know about Paul. Only in Acts, by the way, are we told that he had another name Saul. He himself never says so. (And even in Acts is name is never changed; Saul is his semitic name and Paul is his Greek name)

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  November 30, 2016

      Interesting observation about Saul and Saul, thank you. Are you referring to 1 Samuel 24? Or did you find another citation clearly like “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

      Do you think the author of Acts was drawing the analogy between the Sauls? Do you think Paul was a fictitious character patterned after David’s Saul?

  5. Avatar
    jhague  November 1, 2016

    I agree that Paul believed that Jesus was a real historical person. But everything on the list you provided Paul would have heard from other people. Which certainly doesn’t make the list true (such as the last item that God raised Jesus from the dead). If someone doesn’t believe that Jesus was a real historical person, I’m not sure that Paul stating things that other people told him would be convincing to them.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      Yes indeed — everything Paul knew about Jesus would have been heard from other people, since Paul was not personally acquainted with Jesus. One of my points is that he heard these htings in the 30s from, among other people, Jesus’ own disciples Peter and John and Jesus’ own brother James.

      • Avatar
        HistoricalChristianity  November 30, 2016

        Specifically, Paul heard what other people believed about Jesus. Paul knew a Peter who claimed to be a disciple / apostle of Jesus. But then, Paul himself claimed to be an apostle of Jesus, though he did not qualify by any definition of apostle that Jesus would have used. That would be a student (disciple) of a sage who graduated and was declared qualified to carry on the teachings of the master. Paul knew a James who claimed to be a brother of Jesus. These people who were self-defined apostles built a reputation for themselves, and thus were written into the gospel narratives.

        Sure, this sounds like a conspiracy theory, but if our highly-revered Paul lied about being an apostle, certainly an earlier Peter might have done it.

  6. Avatar
    jhague  November 1, 2016

    “Paul persecuted the church before he joined it.”
    We’ve discussed this before that Paul’s persecution was likely taking the people in for flogging. Under what authority could Paul have someone flogged? Could the people fight him back? In other words, not let themselves be taken in for flogging? Paul being able to persecute anyone has never made sense to me.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      The best guess is that flogging was carried out as a punishment within the synagogues.

      • Avatar
        jhague  November 2, 2016

        Yes. But how did Paul get the people to the synagogue to have them flogged. I would think that some (most) people would fight him off. Tell him to get lost.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          It’s usually thought these were Jews already in the synagogue being punished for saying/doing things forbidden in that context.

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 4, 2016

            So Jews were in the synagogue having discussions. One or more say forbidden comments and they immediately get flogged? So Paul would have been in the synagogue, heard the comments and “turns the offender in” and states that they need to be flogged?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 5, 2016

            Yes, synagogues had ways of dealing with unruly or problematic members.

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 7, 2016

            So it seems that Paul would not have been the only one in the synagogue who would have recommended punishment for Jews who said forbidden statements, correct? Paul was doing the same thing that other Jews were doing when they heard statements in the synagogue that they didn’t like. In other words, it appears that Paul wasn’t necessarily going out of his way to “persecute Jewish Christians.” He was just following the same process that non-Christian Jews had to the Jewish Christians in the synagogue. In other words, the Jewish Christians would have been flogged with or without Paul being in the synagogue. Does that sound correct?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 7, 2016

            Yes, that’s probably right.

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 8, 2016

            This is an example of how I think Paul overstates his position or involvement in something. He wasn’t doing anything different than other non-Christian Jews. Since he participated in having Jewish Christians flogged and he fought with them regarding his message vs. their message, why do you think he was initially taught by Jewish Christians? It seems all his efforts were toward gentile Christians. It would make sense that he was taught by gentile Christians.

          • Avatar
            jhague  February 20, 2017

            I am currently reading Paula Fredriksen’s From Jesus to Christ. If I am understanding her correctly, she believes that the Jewish Christians were flogged only in the Diaspora synagogues due to their message sending an anti-Rome image to the Gentiles that might get the Jews who were a minority in that Diaspora in trouble with the Romans. Do you agree with this thought?

            Also, hypothetically, if we say that Paul really did not have the vision of Christ that he claims caused his conversion, what do you think would have caused his conversion since his first thought was to have the Jewish Christians flogged?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 20, 2017

            I don’t think we know about flogging practices. On Paul: if not a vision, I don’t know what we could say (an insight?). I myself think he had a vision.

          • Avatar
            jhague  February 21, 2017

            If Paul had a vision of Christ speaking to him (I’ll assume via a dream) then is it a safe assumption that the Jewish Christians’ (who he says he persecuted) message had got through to him causing him to have the vision/dream?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 21, 2017

            I’m not sure it’s a *safe* assumption, but it is a view that some scholars certainly entertain.

          • Avatar
            jhague  February 21, 2017

            You’re the main (only) scholar that I am able to ask questions to! 🙂 Do you not think that the message from the Jewish Christians is what caused Paul to have his vision?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 22, 2017

            I personally don’t think we have the information we would need to psychoanalyze the situation.

          • Avatar
            HistoricalChristianity  February 21, 2017

            “If Paul had a vision of Christ speaking to him (I’ll assume via a dream) then is it a safe assumption that the Jewish Christians’ (who he says he persecuted) message had got through to him causing him to have the vision/dream?”

            No, I don’t think so. We very often dream about what we have been thinking about during the day. If Paul was really abusing Christians, he would likely be bothered by his conscience, whether he wanted to or not, whether he could rationalize his bad behavior or not. It’s more plausible that Paul would dream about the people he is hurting, requiring no suggestions from anyone but his conscience.

          • Avatar
            jhague  February 22, 2017

            Of the information that we have, we believe that Paul accepted Christ a few years after Jesus’ death. It would then seem that at that point, he was probably hearing teachings from Jesus Movement Jews/Jewish Christians. Since we know that Paul dd not really see “Christ” then he had some sort of vision/dream of Christ. In order to have this vision, his mind would have to be thinking about what he had heard. So I come to the conclusion that Paul heard a message from Jewish Christians, rejected that message, was thinking about it so much that he had a “vision” and then joined the group. How’s that for psychoanalyzing the situation? 🙂
            (Seriously, I would like to know your thoughts)

          • Bart
            Bart  February 24, 2017

            Yes, I think that much is true. What I don’t think we can determine is what psychological processes happened to Paul (based on what he knew, heard, and had done) leading to the vision.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  November 2, 2016

        is there any evidence for the flogging of Paul except his own words? If he was really flogged repeatedly as he claims, of course there would be scars of some sort on his back, and the people he traveled with would have likely seen them. Is there any independent evidence of floggings of Jews (other than Paul) by synagogue authorities — perhaps in Philo, Josephus, elsewhere?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          No, all we have is Paul and Acts. I’m not sure what the evidence is!

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  November 1, 2016

    The claim by Mythicists that Paul doesn’t think Jesus was a physical flesh and blood human being has always baffled me. I ask them, “Have you actually READ Paul’s letters? Because how anyone could read all of Paul’s letters and come away thinking that Paul doesn’t think Jesus was ever an actual human being, well, that person is terribly confused.”

  8. Avatar
    uziteaches  November 1, 2016

    Bart, I am confused. I recall an earlier post in which you wrote that Paul thought Jesus was a star. Here you write that he was a human being who had a human birth.
    Could you clear this up for me? Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      No, I never have talked about Jesus being a star. I have said he thought that before his birth Jesus was an angel. But he did become a human in a fully human way.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  November 7, 2016

      “Bart, I am confused. I recall an earlier post in which you wrote that Paul thought Jesus was a star.”

      I couldn’t stop myself–

  9. Avatar
    stmaher  November 1, 2016

    Wonderful post. I had often wondered if Jesus was akin to Hercules or other mythical figures, and how much could be based on someone and how much is legend.
    My question is about Paul; how much do we know about his “persecution” of early Christians. It’s anecdotal, but I’ve heard Christians talk exaggerate about how awful, empty and vengeful their life was before becoming Christian. I’m wondering if Paul could be exaggerating too, or is his pre-Damasacus life was just unknown and we trust what he says?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      All we know is that he said he was trying to “destroy” the religion. I doubt if he’s exaggerating, since he doesn’t seem to be too proud of the fact.

      • Avatar
        jhague  November 2, 2016

        I have thought the same of Paul. He seems to exaggerate a lot. Many youth ministers today all want to tell a story about how they “used to” live lives of sin using drugs, alcohol, sex, etc. but now they have through the grace of God and Jesus, changed their lives. They seem to wear this as a badge of honor but also state that they have shame for it. They all have such similar stories it is hard to believe it is true in all cases. This is where I am with Paul. I think he exaggerates and makes up stories if it advances his message.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  November 2, 2016

        Yeah, but he self-authenticates. We often believe that when people admit negative things about themselves, they are more than likely telling the truth. But Paul has an interest in telling the stories of his persecution of the Jesus-followers and his revelation or “conversion.” Maybe he was flogged for stealing from the synagogue poorbox, and he invented a lovely tale to enhance his stature.

  10. Avatar
    living42day  November 1, 2016

    You include in your list, without distinction, several things Paul thinks (believes) about Jesus that are not probable (at least to many historical Jesus scholars):

    “He was a descendant of King David.”

    “He had a last supper with his disciples at which he predicted his coming death.” I could talk about my last meal with you at the Gaines Center in Lexington (an actual event), and I could claim that you said certain plausible things on that occasion (whether you said them or not.) Given the assumption that Jesus existed and had followers (which evidence supports), they no doubt shared a last meal together, but the claim about Jesus predicting his death is more likely belief, not history.

    “[His crucifixion was] at the instigation of the Jewish leaders in Judea.” Many scholars who have nothing to do with mythicism consider the passage in question a later non-Pauline interpolation referring to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.

    You begin your list with two things Paul says that at least invite the question, Why would Paul make such a statement:

    “Jesus had a real, human birth to a real human mother.”

    “He was born as a Jew.”

    As you have discussed in your book HJBG, what Paul goes on to say in Galatians about the church there welcoming him “as an angel, as Christ Jesus” (4:14), along with other passages (Phil 2:5-7; 1 Cor 8:6; etc.), suggests that Paul believed in Jesus’ divine pre-existence. If Paul can speak of Jesus as an angel or as a pre-existent divine being who assumed human likeness, what exactly does it mean that Paul viewed Jesus as a historical figure?

    Because Paul insists that what he knows about Jesus is based either on earlier Christian testimony (1Cor 15:3ff.) or on his own mystical experiences (Gal 1:11-12), Robert Price may well be correct when he suggests that what Paul likely knows is “a myth, not a man” (Christ-Myth Theory, 51).

    In two passages not included on your list, Paul identifies Christ as a “man” and draws a distinction between him and Adam (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Thus, Paul takes for granted that Christ was as much a historical figure as Adam was. Nowadays, Christian fundamentalists are the only ones who think that Adam was a historical figure, so if Paul was wrong about Adam, maybe he was wrong about Christ.

    I agree with your conclusion that Paul’s letters do indicate that he viewed Jesus as a historical figure. However, it might be helpful if you acknowledged (as you do with the last item on your list) how little of what Paul thinks rises to the level of historical probability.

    On my reading of Paul’s letters, the only meaningful evidence they provide for the historical Jesus concerns the fact of his existence (because Paul knows Jesus’ brother James) and the mode of Jesus’ execution (the cross).

    There is ample evidence, even in Paul’s letters, that any memories of the historical Jesus have already been distorted by theological beliefs. As a result, what those sources can tell us has more to do with the myth than the man.

    • Avatar
      godspell  November 11, 2016

      I just noticed this, and I’m not sure how you think comparing beliefs about Jesus and Adam constitutes any kind of argument. Jesus and Paul were contemporaries–Paul talked to people who had eaten with him, traveled with him, were related to him by blood. Adam is a purely mythical figure dating back to the dawn of pre-history. Paul’s belief in Adam is related to his being a religious Jew, not to personal experience and knowledge. His being ‘wrong’ about Adam has nothing to do with the veracity of his statements about Jesus, one way or the other. You might as well say that because Romulus and Remus weren’t raised by wolves, and may not have existed at all, that means Julius Caesar didn’t exist. Or that if we could disprove their existence, that would somehow negate the huge historical significance of Rome, both the good and evil done in its name.

      There is no difference, in my mind, between blind faith and invincible skepticism. They are two sides of the same coin. We cannot, as a species, increase our knowledge and understanding of the world or of ourselves if we ask for indisputable proof of everything. Which of course no one ever does–people SELECTIVELY doubt things they don’t want to believe.

      The sources tell us about the myth and the man, and that’s true of many sources about purely secular people as well. Do you believe everything you’ve heard about Leonidas? Religion is not an essential component of mythology. Very real people who lived in our lifetimes have been mythologized.

      The gospels contain mythological elements, as do the letters of Paul, but they are very very far from being pure myth, and to fail to understand that is to fail to understand the study of history itself, which is something we can’t afford to do right now. It’s too important.

  11. Avatar
    cmccleary  November 1, 2016

    Even if Mythicists want to say that Paul wrote little about the “man” Jesus, the fact is that he constantly wrote about the importance of his death and resurrection. That in and of itself seems to be good evidence that Paul believed that Jesus did actually live and die. I realize that some people could try to say that Paul was referencing the “myth” surrounding Jesus but when you factor in all of the other evidence, it is clear that Paul believed in an actual person named Jesus who lived and died.

    Great post, Bart!

  12. Avatar
    drussell60  November 1, 2016

    Do we have any reason to believe that Paul may have encountered Jesus during his ministry? If he did encounter Jesus as a Pharisee, you would think this may have been mentioned by him in his writing, yet that is not a given.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      No, Paul almost certainly never met Jesus.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  November 2, 2016

        during Jesus’ earthly mission you mean, right? Are you also referring to the Acts material which claims that Jesus had some kind of vision, revelation on the road to Damascus?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          Yes, I mean that Paul never meant the historical man Jesus.

  13. Avatar
    gavriel  November 1, 2016

    Would you consider Gal 8:10-16 as an indication of Pauls’s knowledge of Jesus’ habit of addressing God as Father/Abba ?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      I think you must mean Romans! I don’t think this shows he necessarily got it from Jesus himself; he may have simply adopted this usage from Christian custom before him.

      • Avatar
        gavriel  November 3, 2016

        I meant also Gal 4:6-7, which is even more clear than Romans as an indication that Pauls knows of a habit of addressing God as “Father” elsewhere attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The question was if this could be seen as one item on the list of things Paul knows about the historical Jesus.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          Yes, I get the question. If Christians after Jesus used this expression and Paul was acquainted with them, then I’d say no, his use of it may not be because he has independent knowledge about Jesus’ usage, but simply with established Christian usage.

  14. Avatar
    mjoniak  November 1, 2016

    A question. You quoted 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15. But I’ve read somewhere that this verse is considered to be a later interpolation. I too always thought that antisemitic rhetoric here doesn’t sound like Paul from Romans 9. Do you think this was actually written by him?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      My view is that it’s authentic. It’s hard to understand, but I don’t think in this case that means Paul didn’t write it. Paul absolutely does talk about Jews being under God’s “wrath” (Romans 1:18-2:16, e.g.)

  15. Avatar
    doug  November 1, 2016

    Since mythicists claim Jesus did not exist, but Paul supplies evidence that Jesus did exist, do mythicists then claim that Paul did not exist? If so, what “evidence” do they give for that?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      They more typically claim that these passages in Paul do not show that Jesus existed. An odd claim for my tastes.

  16. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 1, 2016

    Do you think Christianity would have survived without Paul?
    First Paul was educated And wrote persuasively in Greek .
    Second the potential converts among the Jews was quite limited because the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. The Jerusalem church likely faded away and the 12 apostles were dispersed .
    Third , Paul’s message was simple and attractive for all. Just believe Jesus died and God resurrected him and you will have eternal life.
    Paul also emphasizes love and good deeds, the earthly historical teachings of Jesus

  17. Rick
    Rick  November 1, 2016

    All of a sudden Paul/Acts story of Paul persecuting Christians and journeying off to another non-Jewish land (Damascus, Syria) to beat up some more Christians, a mere three years after the crucifixion, seems a bit hokey. I had not flinched with Rodney Starke’s estimated 1000 Christians in CE 40, but, in three years it seems a bit much for there to be enough Christians in Damascus to worry about. I know Damascus is closer to the Galilee, and, there were certainly more followers of the living Jesus than the twelve who could/would travel there in a few days but it still seems,,,, odd.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      I think Stark’s number is way too high. But there’s nothing strange about having a few Christians in Damascus already in 33 CE. Paul actually doesn’t say *where* he was persecuting Christians.

  18. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 1, 2016

    Wow! I did not realize that Paul said so many things about Jesus. That is quite a list. Thanks for educating me. I was under the impression that Paul said very little about Jesus, especially with regard to not referring to His teachings when addressing issues arising in congregations.

    I still struggle with one big question: Given all of the historical problems associated with the Bible, and since the Bible is the foundation of Christianity, I still do not understand how people can get a historical education about the Bible and somehow still remain Christian? I know that you tend to split the theological from the historical, but the historical serves as the foundation of the theological much as anatomy serves as the foundation of surgery and without that foundation the whole thing seems, to me, to unravel. So, the question is how do people remain Christian after they get a historical education about the Bible?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      It’s because Christianity is not belief in the Bible. It’s a belief in Christ. It’s important to remember: there was Christianity for a very long time before the Bible even existed.

  19. TWood
    TWood  November 1, 2016

    You say: “He had a last supper with his disciples at which he predicted his coming death (1 Cor. 11:22-24)”

    1. I know Q doesn’t mention Jesus’ predictions of his own death and resurrection, but Paul shows the “prediction tradition” was at least a decade older than Mark (making it possibly as old as Q?)… does this challenge the idea that the “prediction tradition” is a theological postdiction? Or does the totality of evidence (how Second Temple Judaism perceived the Messiah and the disciples’ surprise at both Jesus’ death and post-death appearances) still strongly imply Jesus did not predict either his death or resurrection?

    2. Since Paul never says Jesus predicted his own resurrection, is it possible Jesus saw the risk and did predict his own death, but not his own resurrection? If you went to Aleppo right now claiming to be Muhammad’s true successor, you could probably accurately predict your own death (but not your own resurrection). Anything like that possible?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      I don’t think the fact Paul knew this tradition in the 50s shows that it goes back to 30, necessarily. And yes, it’s completely possible Jesus predicted his death but not his resurrection.

      • TWood
        TWood  November 2, 2016

        Thanks for the clarification. One follow up if you’re willing. We know Paul knew Peter, John and James, so is there a reason to think this tradition Paul knew about in the 50s doesn’t come from one or more of these guys in the 30s? It seems like one of the subjects they’d likely discuss… and the fact that Paul does not mention the associated resurrection prediction makes me wonder why 1 Cor. 11:22-24 isn’t likely from the 30s before the resurrection prediction part was added later after the 50s but before 70 CE when it was written in Mark. I see you said it doesn’t *necessarily* come from the 30s, which is true of course, but I’m wondering if there’s a good reason not to think it’s *probable* that it comes from the 30s.

        P.s. I have Jesus Before the Gospels (which I haven’t started yet) and I’m about halfway through Did Jesus Exist… do either of these deal with this… and if not… do you have a book that does (and if you don’t, do you know of someone else’s you can recommend)? I’d like to study this further…

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2016

          My sense is that if you want to argue he knew the tradition in the 30s, you’d have to give some reasons for thinking so (evidence). I’m not sure what that would be.

      • Robert
        Robert  November 3, 2016

        If Jesus was indeed a Jewish apocalypticist, he certainly would have believed in his imminent resurrection. Not in the way portrayed in the gospels some 40+ years later, but nonetheless he certainly would have believed in his imminent resurrection.

      • Avatar
        HistoricalChristianity  February 22, 2017

        In the gospels, Jesus is portrayed as, among other things, an apocalyptic preacher, even a Zealot. For such a person to predict his own violent death required no mystical skills, just common sense.

  20. Avatar
    Abaddon  November 1, 2016

    Thanks for the concise breakdown!

    Regarding the question:
    “How can anyone say that Paul doesn’t think Jesus was a real, historical Jewish teacher in Israel who was crucified?”

    As you know, the part about Paul’s believing that Christ was “real”, “Jewish” and “crucified” are not points contested by mythicists. What they’re arguing is the fact that when Paul mentions Christ (per your list), he’s oddly vague on the point of Jesus’ being a “historical teacher in Israel”. And this isn’t what one would expect from someone living so close to the time of Jesus and associating with Jesus’ followers.

    Your bullet list is a perfect illustration of this point. If Paul were more explicit, you’d be able to simply quote him verbatim to argue for the historicity of Jesus. But instead, you add specificity to your paraphrases/summaries of Paul to better illustrate your point, which can be seen as reading aspects of the gospel narratives into Paul (eisegesis). Direct quotations of Paul don’t seem to do the trick, hence the need to make distinctions that Paul doesn’t make. For example:

    -Jesus had a real, human birth to a real human mother (Galatians 4:4)
    “…God sent his son, born (γενόμενον) of a woman…”

    -He was born as a Jew (Galatians 4:4)
    “…came into being (γενόμενον) under the law (ὑπὸ νόμον)…” Paul uses “γίνομαι” for “came into being” as he does to refer to Adam’s “coming into being” in 1 Cor 15:5.

    -He was a descendant of King David (Romans 1:3-4)
    “…according to the flesh” (κατὰ σάρκα, literally “made from the sperm/seed (σπέρμα) of David”)

    -He had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5)
    -One of whom was named James (Galatians 1:19) (Paul knows him personally)
    Referring to these brothers as “οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου” (brothers of the Lord), never referring to them as “Jesus’ brothers” or brothers of the Lord “according to the flesh” (κατὰ σάρκα). Mythicists postulate that this may be a convention to distinguish apostolic from non-apostolic Christians

    -His ministry was to and among Jews (Romans 15:8)
    “Christ has become a servant (διάκονος) to the circumcision (περιτομῆς) on behalf of the truth of God…”

    -He had twelve disciples (1 Corinthians 15:5)
    -One of whom was Cephas/Peter (Paul knows him personally as well)
    Christ “appeared to Cephas, and then to “the twelve” (τοῖς δώδεκα)” (in the same way that he appeared to Paul, through revelation). It’s not clear here that Cephas was part of “the twelve”, which is an odd thing to say if one gives credence to the gospel narrative of the 12 disciples that included Cephas. Paul curiously never refers to the “apostles” as ever having been “disciples/students” (μαθηταί).

    -He was a teacher, and Paul knows some of his teachings (1 Cor. 7:10-11; 9:14; 11:22-24)
    Paul reportedly taught the kerygma he received from the risen Christ through revelation. So he had carte blanche to make up any teaching that he wanted and appeal to the authority of “the Lord” (rather than appealing to what Jesus’ disciples learned first hand from their “teacher”; a term that Paul doesn’t use in reference to Christ).

    -He had a last supper with his disciples at which he predicted his coming death (1 Cor. 11:22-24)
    “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was delivered up (παρεδίδετο/παρεδίδοτο), took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said…” No mention of this being a “last supper with his disciples” or with his “apostles” or of it taking place in “the upper room”; or anything else that would more directly corroborate the later gospel narrative of the “last supper”. When Paul says that Christ was “delivered up” he does so in the same way that he said God’s “delivered up” Christ in Rom 8:32. There’s no explicit mention of any “betrayal” by Judas, or any other indication that Paul learned about the event as it was later described in the gospels.

    -He was crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2 and millions of other places)
    Mythicists postulate that Paul may have held beliefs in a cosmological scheme that allowed for heavenly counterparts mirroring everything on earth, which would thus allow for crucifixion in the lower heavens.

    -This was on orders of the civil authorities (1 Corinthians 2:8)
    “τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος” (the rulers of this age), similar to Paul’s reference to Satan as the “god of this age” (ὁ θεὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος) in 2 Cor 4:4

    -At the instigation of the Jewish leaders in Judea (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15)
    “…the Jews who killed (ἀποκτεινάντων) the Lord Jesus…” – not at their instigation, as in the Gospels.

    -He was then buried (1 Corinthians 15:3-4
    -Paul also thinks, of course, that God raised Jesus from the dead.
    This is clearly something that Paul and all Christians believed, so it’s not really a matter of dispute with mythicists, who postulate that Paul envisioned these events as having occurred in the lower heavens.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2016

      I’m not sure *why* we should expect Paul to say more than he does. To say this is “unusual” is to say that he is not doing what is “usually” done. But we don’t know what was usually done.

    • Avatar
      Barryb  March 12, 2020

      you are stretching by a mile. to a point that it becomes ridiculous.

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