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Paul’s Acquaintances: Jesus’ Disciples and Brother

I have pointed out that the information provided us by Paul shows that he, at least, understood Jesus to have been a real flesh-and-blood human being (even while acknowledging that he was also a divine being).  He really was born, was a Jew, had brothers, and so on.   The reason all this matters is that many Mythicists claim that Paul thought no such thing, that for him Christ was a cosmic being, not a human being, and that he had been crucified in outer space by demonic powers.   I don’t think a careful reading of Paul could lead to those conclusions.

There are two things in particular that Paul says that make it virtually impossible for me to ascribe to a Mythicist view.  The first (I’ll deal with the second in later posts) is the fact that Paul actually knew at least a couple of Jesus’ earthly disciples, Peter and John the son of Zebedee, and even more impressive, his brother James.

There can be no doubt about that.  Paul himself describes two meeting he had with these companions of Jesus in Jerusalem.  His discussion of these meetings is not designed to demonstrate that these people existed.  He is assuming that everyone knows they existed.  And it is not in order to argue a point that “I really, really, truly DID MEET with these people.”  He is actually trying to make a completely other point and he reluctantly concedes, when making the point, that he did meet with them, twice.

Here’s the situation.  In his letter to the Galatians Paul…

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James the Brother of the Lord
Paul and the Historical Jesus



  1. Avatar
    rivercrowman  November 2, 2016

    Hi Bart, I’ve read your books “Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene” (2006) and “The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot” ((2006). Thanks! … But that only accounts for two of Jesus’ original 13 disciples. … What happened to the rest of them? … Presumably Jewish, were they eventually run off by Paul’s emerging gentile churches?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      I’m afraid we only have later legends — and that only for some of them! Very little historical information to go on, except a bit on James and John….

  2. Avatar
    moose  November 2, 2016

    Mr. Ehrman. I have to agree that Paul in the letter to the Galatians describes an earthly Jesus – “born of a woman”. This has nothing to do with a heavenly birth, as some Mythicists would argue(No names mentioned). Paul seems definitely to believe that Jesus was born of a mortal woman. The question is; What did he mean?

    Tertullian explains it this way; Jesus was the son of a mortal Woman/Virgin, BUT Son of a Heavenly Father. Jesus was the “Son of man” from his earthly mother, BUT, at the same time, “the Son of God” from his heavenly Father.
    As we see in Luke 3:23: “He(Jesus) was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph”(But his real father was God).

    This is why Tertullian denies that Solomon was the true Christ. Solomon was the son of David according to the flesh. Solomon had an earthly mother AND an earthly father.

    But now comes something that has to be seen through theological glasses.
    Whenever Adonijah is mentioned in 1 Kings, he is always mentioned as; “Adonijah, the son of Haggith”.
    If we read the Tanakh in the way we usualy do, we off course understand that Adonijah was a son of David as well. But if we are enough theologically convinced then everything is possible, also other dubious interpretations. Just look at The Left Behind movement today. This movement is also based on dubious interpretations of the Bible. And we are living in 2016!

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  November 2, 2016

    This is one of the major problems with the Mythicists’ argument. It must presume a massive conspiracy that is logistically far more complex and deceptive than the mere assumption that the Christian movement formed around a real, historical person who had disciples and some modicum of a legacy. Otherwise, once we start assuming imaginary people, we have to draw some kind of line somewhere where imaginary people stop and real people start. If Jesus was imaginary, what about Peter and John and James? Were they real or imaginary? And how can we know? And what about Paul? Was he imaginary or real? Were his letters all the creation of someone else? What about the Apostolic Fathers? Was Barnabas real? Was Timonthy real? Was Polycarp real? Was Ignatius of Antioch real? Was Clement of Rome real? At what point do we go from made-up people to flesh-and-blood people? It’s madness!

    This is the inherent problem with conspiracy theories in general. In their attempt to (presumably) answer mysterious questions, they merely create more mystery! It’s the intellectual equivalent of saying “They say…” It’s lazy thinking, and I’m having none of it.

    • Avatar
      Rogers  November 5, 2016

      Mythicists appear to be people, as a group, that have never heard of the problem-solving principle, Occam’s razor.

  4. Avatar
    mjt  November 2, 2016

    It seems to me, from reading the gospels, that Jesus didn’t teach the same gospel that Paul later taught. If seems that, based on the gospels, the disciples would be preaching a gospel of works, or maybe even faith plus works, like in James 2…whereas Paul was teaching faith only. Is this a reasonable explanation of what was going on in the early church?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      Yes, I would say this captures the difference in its simplest form.

  5. Avatar
    pueblo2  November 2, 2016

    I just posted in your earlier thread of October 28 a request for a rebuttal of the mythicist argument that James is not necessarily a biological brother of Jesus. It looks like you are getting that done here and in the next post.

    Much thanks for that.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  November 5, 2016

      Ha! I replied to your comment on the October thread. Then, I read today’s post followed by this one. I should really read the posts first and in order.

  6. Avatar
    jhague  November 2, 2016

    In the first paragraph you use the names Jesus and Christ as representing the same person. Did Paul believe that Jesus became Christ after his resurrection? He seems to use the title of Christ far more often as Jesus’ name and does not use the name Jesus very often.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      No, Paul never says anyting about the resurrection being the point at which Jesus became the Christ. On the contrary he uses the term Christ in reference to Jesus’ death (“Christ died according to the Scriptures”; 1 Cor. 15:3)

  7. Avatar
    llamensdor  November 2, 2016

    Query: If Paul received his revelation directly from Jesus 3 years before he first met with James, why did he feel the need 14 years later to again meet with James and “divvy up” the territory?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      AT that point he appears to have been meeting resistance from those with doubts about the validity of his gentile mission.

  8. Avatar
    jhague  November 2, 2016

    “On the contrary, he received his gospel message directly from God himself, through a revelation he received of Christ.”

    To me it is obvious that Paul received his message from someone on earth, not through a revelation from Christ. Do you have a guess on who he may have received his message from other than Christians in the Diaspora? I’m guessing he was taught by Gentile Christians? Would it be unusual for a Jew to agree to be taught a message from a Gentile?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      I think it must have been Jewish Christians — it was early in the movement still. He was the one who had the “revelation” that the message could as well go to gentiles.

      • Avatar
        jhague  November 4, 2016

        So Jewish Christians from the Diaspora? Not Jerusalem, right?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 5, 2016

          Yes, that would be my guess.

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 7, 2016

            So the Jewish Christians that Paul says he was “persecuting” were the people who taught him the message that he began preaching. How did the Diaspora Jewish Christians’ message become so different from the message of Jesus and his disciples? Or did Paul alter the message himself so that he could reach the Gentiles with it?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 7, 2016

            Paul himself may have played a large role in the matter. I discuss the issue in my new book (due out in about a year)

          • Avatar
            jhague  November 7, 2016

            I always look forward to your new books coming out!

      • Avatar
        frfouger  November 4, 2016

        He could have picked it up from the people he was persecuting.

  9. Avatar
    Tempo1936  November 2, 2016

    Why did the 12 oppose Paul’s gospel that God’s salvation is open to gentiles without becoming Jewish for nearly 15 years?
    The 12 lived with Jesus for three years Heard jesus’ public and private teachings,and received the Holy Spirit . Didn’t they believe a different gospel, that Jesus was coming back quickly to the establish a new earthly Jewish Kingdom?
    without Paul’s epistles , there would be no Christianity as we know it.
    Yet i’ve never heard fundamentalist teach this.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      Yes, I think the split was between those who thought following Jesus required a person to be a Jew and those who thought this was not required, and consequently whether the future kingdom was Jewish or worldwide.

  10. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  November 2, 2016

    But how do we affirm the claims of Paul that he knew the Apostles (even though this seems to be an argument against Apostolic Succession) yet deny claims that Polycarp and Ignatius knew Apostles?

    We know that it is claimed that Irenaeus knew Polycarp, who knew Irenaeus who knew Hippolytus. Why doubt those histories but not Paul’s?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      It’s because neither Polycarp nor Ignatius claims to have known the apostles (in contrast to Paul)

  11. Avatar
    mdwyer  November 3, 2016

    Interesting post. Am I right that no serious New Testament scholar denies Jesus’ existence? If so, why are you spending to much time trying to refute mythicism?

    • Avatar
      mdwyer  November 3, 2016

      ‘so’ much time, not to.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  November 5, 2016

        I don’t think it’s about spending time refuting mythicism as it is an area of interest for us the blog members.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      I’m actually not spending much time. That’s my whole point. I don’t *want* to! But people do ask….

  12. TWood
    TWood  November 3, 2016

    Is there any reason to think “brother” means “cousin?”

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 3, 2016

    It seems like a hard fact to “get around.”

  14. Avatar
    clipper9422@yahoo.com  November 3, 2016

    On an unrelated subject, I’ve just finished Geza Vermes’s “The Changing Faces of Jesus.” Many/most of the other books on the historical Jesus that I’ve read, including your own, put strong emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus.

    It seems ever more clear that Christians who want to be true followers of the historical Jesus should become Jews, albeit Jews who give special importance to Jesus as a Jewish prophet/holy man/ethical teacher. Or maybe they should become Ebionite Christians.

    Are there currently any Ebionite Christians? What current day Christian denomination might be closest to the Ebionites? Or would certain strains of current day Judaism be closer to Ebionite Christianity than any current day Christian denominations?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      Yes, there are Christians who think one should follow Jewish law and customs as part of their faith. I know James Tabor is on the blog. he knows a lot about this, and can maybe say a few things (if he’s reading this!)

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  November 5, 2016

        I’m going to message him on Facebook!

  15. Avatar
    KathleenM  November 3, 2016

    I agree entirely with the above, and I think Saul/Paul would NOT have made up that he had a revelation from Yeshua/Christ of some kind out on the road. What he heard and what was revealed to him personally I totally think he believed, not sure exactly how or what happened to him. We have it reported he became blind for a period of time until Ananias(sp?) was directed to travel to where Saul had gone, then heal him and restore Saul’s vision via the laying on of hands.

    I think these things really happened – I guess someone could have “made it up” in the sense I could just purport that someone knocked me down to my knees and I heard voices, etc. But the details are so clear and the event so unusual for Saul, that it almost certainly is true. Exactly what happened, we can’t really verify or validate in any way, but we can’t say it “didn’t happen” either in that sense. Plus the story goes on, with detail.

    In my own personal visions and experiences, people sometimes say “The details don’t matter.” But when you have a real vision, waking or sleeping, it’s so clear and defined, that you go over it again and again to be sure it’s “correct” in all the details, you don’t want to miss something that might have meaning later. I think Saul had a real vision + then couldn’t see at all and it turned his life around, plus he was healed. Who would make all that up in such detail?

    I look forward to hearing about “James” – he also seems very real, possibly a cousin or half brother of Yeshua’s via Joseph’s marriage. (I think Joseph and Mary were engaged for the remainder of his life, betrothed, possibly as John and Mary Magdalene might have been at Cana. In the early stories, and Gospels we know, eventually John, Mary the Blessed Mother, and Mary Magdalene became the final Holy Family after the Ascension – moved to Ephesus possibly.) James did not become the designee to care for the Mary’s – so I doubt he was Mary’s son, unless she stayed in Jerusalem. Nazareth would have been a hard place to live without some kind of support – for a woman – just farming and possibly carpentry. James definitely did become the leader in Jerusalem. Some accounts indicate James and Yeshua contended for the following of John the Baptist when the Baptist was incarcerated, and Yeshua or Jesus was “chosen,” or the following flowed over to him naturally because of who and what he was and was teaching. James strikes me as more reserved. Saul was obviously a wild man before and after his experience, but so smart and all of them were so devoted – people aren’t devoted to “myths,” it’s the real man that makes the myth.

    NB: on Baptism, the original “baptizing” I’m reading — was done in the middle of a river with the worshipper facing upstream for purification, and dunking into the water – not being laid back in the river by anyone. The river would have been the “Mikvah” the ritual bath. And the Baptizer was over on the bank of the Jordan farthest from Roman interference, altho Judaism was acceptable to the Roman’s of course, but the Baptizer was getting a bit away from the mainstream. I need to look at the Greek word, plus Hebrew and Aramaic for baptizing. it was originally a Jewish custom. I think the people on the North Shore of the Lake were pretty advanced and all pulling away from Jerusalem – Judea being less commercial, and less advanced, poorer probably. With Nazareth being north of Samaria like Bethsaida, the thinking was more advanced and Greek spoken possibly, along with the Aramaic, possibly Hebrew writings and reading, the Holy language of God.

    • Avatar
      Rogers  November 5, 2016

      Hah! Another experiencer.
      I started getting special dreams (and waking life things too that overlap) starting back in 2011 (i’m middle aged so this is late in life, so to speak). They happen ever so often on a frequency of a few weeks or months. These dreams are unlike all other manner of dreams and they always feature this guide person – in the very first one I learned her name, Ana:

      I won’t go into details of these dreams but just hit on some of the subject matters the dreams dealt with:

      One pertained to what is part of our basic purpose to live human lives here on Earth.
      Another happened after I had a surgery and was in a lot of discomfort – the nature of the dream was to bring a sense of pleasant comfort
      Another, which was very recent on the morning of Nov 1, All Saints Day, it was to be given an experience of what it is like when we die and return to a spirit being state

      Sometimes, like in the very last dream I am spoken to by Ana.

      I don’t find Paul’s experiences to be out of the range of what people report having. Certainly since I started having these I soon encounted other people having various unusual experiences. Not much has really changed since 1900 years ago. Mystical experiences of varous sorts are fixture of the human race.

  16. Avatar
    Hume  November 3, 2016

    Bart, you’ve got to come to Canada for a debate/lecture! Our people are nice.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      I’m sitting by my phone waiting for the invitation. 🙂

  17. Avatar
    Phrygia  November 4, 2016

    Bart, could mythicists argue well that apostles other than James were deemed apostles by virtue of having had visions of or revelations from Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2016

      That’s what non-mythicists often think. I don’t know what mythicists would say about it.

  18. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  November 4, 2016

    Bart, here and elsewhere, you have discussed Paul’s belief that gentiles did not need to be circumcised or, more generally, did not need to become Jews, in order to be in good standing with God–i.e. be saved when the rest of the world was destroyed at the second coming. Wasn’t it a common Jewish belief that no one had to be Jewish to be in good standing with God? And yet we find the disciples apparently insisting that faith in Jesus’ resurrection was not enough and that one had to also be Jewish (be circumcised). How could it have been so critical to the disciples that gentile believers in Christ be circumcised if they didn’t believe in the first place that they needed to be Jewish? Yet, apparently, Paul taught that, without faith in Christ’s resurrection, no one could not be saved. Can you please throw some light on this for me?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 5, 2016

      Yes, you could be an acceptable gentile. Or a “God-fearer” who kept most but not all of the law. Or you could go the whole nine yards and become a proselyte. Paul’s Xn opponents were saying that converts needed to go the whole nine yards. Paul said not.

  19. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  November 5, 2016

    Paul wrote that he received the gospel through revelation, but he didn’t write that Jesus’ appearance was through a revelation, right?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 6, 2016

      He says that “when God revealed his Son to me.” And elsewhere he says he saw the resurrectded Jesus. So putting those two together give you Paul’s views of the matter.

  20. Avatar
    VincitOmniaVeritas  November 11, 2016

    Another important thing to mention here about Paul knowing and having met Simon Peter, John and James is the fact that Paul was originally opposed to them and their movement. It is unlikely Paul himself would have been convinced by their movement if they were themselves not describing to him the historical existence of the actual Jesus.

    Paul also says specifically that he acquired information about Jesus from Peter at Galatians 1:18 – “It was three years later that I went to Jerusalem to obtain information from Peter…”

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