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Paul’s Gospel Message


And what do you make of Paul’s statement that he didn’t get the good news (= the resurrection and thus the triumph over death) from other humans but from the ‘risen Christ’ himself? If he persecuted the Christians because of a resurrection belief then he would have heard about it before, from other humans, no?



Ah! This takes me to the issue that I was planning on posting about today anyway. Several people in their comments have pointed out that if Paul claims to have “received” the teachings about Jesus’ death and resurrection from others (1 Cor. 15:3), then it is hard to make sense of what he says in Galatians 1, that he received his “gospel” directly from Jesus himself. How could Paul have it both ways?


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Paul’s “Judicial” Model of Salvation
Paul’s Importance in Early Christianity?



  1. Avatar
    JohnBradbury  April 25, 2014

    So the religion should have been called Paulianity not Christianity?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 25, 2014

      No, that’s what I’m arguing *against*

      • Avatar
        JohnBradbury  April 26, 2014

        But if the original Jewish followers of Jesus thought that gentile followers would have to become Jewish then I doubt it would have become a world religion. Paul removed that requirement and enabled its spread.

    • Avatar
      nichael  April 28, 2014

      While referring to the religion as “Paulianity” is surely overstating the case, would it be reasonable to refer to later orthodoxy Christianity (and especially Protestantism with its emphasis on the role of Faith, and on the concept of Sanctification by Grace) as, at least in part, “Pauline Christianity”?

      That is, in a way comparable to –but, of course, distinct from– other Christianites (e.g. “Jewish”, or “Jamesian”, or “Lukan”; or even such things as “Gnostic” or “Marcionite” Christianity).

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

        I’d say that lots of forms of early Christianity claimed that Paul was the one who pointed the way (to their views): not just the proto-orthodox, but also the Valentinians and the Marcionites, for example.

  2. Avatar
    bholly72  April 25, 2014

    What shame we don’t have an “Acts of the apostles” written by someone from the Jerusalem church!

  3. Avatar
    alienvoodoo  April 25, 2014

    Do you see Romans 15:20-21 as relating to Paul’s self view of “fulfilling” the Prohets? This has been gnawing at me for several weeks and would love to hear your views.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, I think he did see it this way!

      • Avatar
        alienvoodoo  April 28, 2014

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to my question! Just finished reading the new book for the second time, and have enjoyed learning some new insights. I have quite the Ehrman Library and appreciate your insights, thoughts, and especially your courage in passing this information on to us. Your personal story resonates deeply with me and my own 35 or so years of study, and experience both within and outside the church. Thank you!!

  4. Avatar
    fultonmn  April 26, 2014

    Galatians 2 must be the most-fun chapter in all of the NT. Seems to be the only first-hand account we have of some of these earliest figures. My careful (but completely unschooled) read of it leads me to think there were three approaches on this issue:

    1. Paul’s stringent anti-Judaizer view, in which the observance of the law by gentiles is a fatal heresy;
    2. James’ view, which seems to require conversion to Judaism and circumcision (!) of new Christians; and,
    3. Peter’s view, which does not require circumcision or observance of the law by gentiles, but doesn’t hold James’ view as a fatal heresy; Peter doesn’t mind accomodating James’ followers’ sensibilities in Antioch.

    That is as close as I can come to reconciling Paul’s claims that (1) Peter endorsed his gospel, and yet (2) Paul had to confront Peter on this issue later. I suppose either (or both) claims could be dismissed as ahistorical, and Paul would certainly have motive to claim Peter’s imprimatur. But something about the passage’s tone makes me slow to dismiss it. Paul is really wound up here. And it seems slightly incongruous for Paul to falsely claim Peter’s endorsement and then point out how he rebuked him. Thoughts?

    In the spirit of your blog I chip in a little extra when I slow you down with questions; I hope others consider doing that too. Your time and expertise are appreciated!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      I don’t think we know James and Peter’s views of circumcision from this passage — only their views about whether it is right for Jews to have table-fellowship with Gentiles.

      • Avatar
        fultonmn  April 28, 2014

        Hmm. Had assumed that the unwillingness to eat together was all about adherence to dietary laws, and probably reflected a more general attitude toward the law. I’ll try to assume less!
        I think Galatians 2 would make great fodder for an in-depth series of posts some day! Thanks again for your time.

  5. Avatar
    Billy Geddes  April 26, 2014

    Was Saul Circumcised before he became Paul?

    He seems to be so against the act of getting the bit chopped off that I have to wonder if he was a Jew or not!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      He would have been circumcised when he was eight days old.

    • Avatar
      yes_hua  May 7, 2014

      For one, and I don’t know Dr. Ehrman’s view on this, was Paul ever named Saul? Regarding Jewish laws, I wonder if he wasn’t using a sound marketing strategy not to force the Gentiles into follow strict Jewish code. Something about the man’s ego and need to puff up his own worth and esteem always made me think that it was less revelation than finding a means to an end (gathering more converts).

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  May 7, 2014

        It’s usually thought that Saul was his Hebrew / Aramaic name, and Paul his Greek name.

  6. Avatar
    Adam0685  April 26, 2014

    I know this is a very complex question and there is a lot of debate and issues associated with it: was Paul’s gospel–“that belief in this death and resurrection *apart from the Law* is what brought salvation, to the Gentiles as well as the Jews”–different than (or possibility even at odds with with) what the historical Jesus likely said about what brings salvation?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, I think it’s very different. I’ll say more about that in a later post or two.

  7. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  April 26, 2014

    ‘He is talking about “his” version of the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection – namely, that it brings salvation to all people, both Jew and Gentile, apart from the need to keep the Jewish law. That is Paul’s gospel message.’ > ok, that sounds plausible.

    It raises the (theological) question though as why ‘the risen Christ’ wouldn’t have told this already to his earliest followers?

    Historically speaking the reason for this ‘omission’ is of course that Jesus’ Jewish followers didn’t care much about the Gentiles. It’s only with Paul that the Gentiles come into the picture. He offers them an easy way to become a follower of the One God (without the need to cut of your foreskin and follow a zillion dietary rules). That’s why I side though with calling the religion, as it is since Paul!, Paulinity … Or Chrispaulinity 😉

  8. Avatar
    mary  April 26, 2014

    The direction of the whole religion changed because one man had a vision he believed was real, and he believed his own interpretation of it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Well, what I’ve been arguing is that Paul is not the one who “invented” Christianity. But he certainly argued more vociferously than anyone else we know of that following the Jewish law was unrelated to salvation.

  9. Avatar
    jrhislb  April 26, 2014

    Does not Paul’s letters indicate that he did not follow the Law himself, anymore? It seems to me that he thought observance of the Law was optional for Jews as well.

  10. Avatar
    willow  April 26, 2014

    Again, in my humble and willing to be corrected opinion, it wasn’t Paul who invented Christianity, though he seems to have changed its original intention, which was to make right the relationships between God and man, and not by the shedding of blood on the cross, nor such a miraculous resurrection, but through repentance followed by obedience to the law, born out of love for God and for fellow man. Paul obliterated all of that, and in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus, himself who made it quite clear, time and again: Not one jot. Not one tittle. Not before all of heaven and earth pass away; and surely Jesus truly believed that end was upon them, which made it all the more important to him that everyone get and stay right with God.

    If anyone actually “invented” Christianity, it seems to me, it would have to have been the church fathers who, from the first through the fourth centuries hammered out what it, Christianity, would and would not be, even going so far as to dictate what and what not the masses were to believe, and even what would and would not go into our Bibles.

  11. Avatar
    dhjones1  April 26, 2014

    I am trying to understand what made Paul’s message “click” with the Gentiles. I don’t think it was about living in pease and harmony. Did his message adapt to one about sex and about preparing for the imminent distruction of the world?

    I thought Paul started in the synagogues of the diaspora Jews. Apparently this message was DOA.
    So did Paul have to invent a new idea to allow him to preach to the Gentiles? Was this the inspiration for his gospel?

    Obviously sex was not so important for the impending Kingdom. Was this a good idea for some Gentile women, especially wealthy ones who could finance and shelter Paul’s missionary work?

    Obviously since salves would benefit equally in the Kingdom, Paul’s message found fertile ground.

    So is this it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      No, I don’t think his teachings about sex had much of anything to do with it. When he describes his missionary preaching it is all about leaving idols to worship the one true God. (see 1 Thess. 1:9-10) My guess is that he convinced pagans that the God of Jesus was more powerful than their gods.

      • Avatar
        FrankJay71  April 29, 2014

        Do you have any thoughts on what the thorn in Paul’s flesh was that he refers to in 2 Corinthians 12? Of read some postulate that it may have been sexual in nature?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

          There are lots of theories (some involving sexuality), and none that is particularly persuasive (epilepsy? onset of blindness? sexual orientation? speech impediment? Make a guess!!!)

  12. Avatar
    hwl  April 26, 2014

    “That’s why Gentiles who start following the Law are in danger of losing their salvation…And if they don’t believe that, then they cannot be saved.”
    Is this squarely the Old Perspective? Would E.P. Sanders disagree about Gentiles losing their salvation if they follow the Law?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      No, I don’t hold to the old (= Lutheran = justification by faith not by good works) model/perspective.

  13. Avatar
    laz  April 26, 2014

    Do you think that any of the original apostles or early disciples were convinced of Pauls’s “revelations”?

  14. Avatar
    Shubhang  April 26, 2014

    I think the point people are making, and there may be some merit to it, that by relaxing the requirement of adhering to Jewish laws, in particular, not insisting on circumcision or following kosher dietary laws, Paul made ‘Christianity’ attractive to Gentiles – in a sense, Paul was the ultimate marketing man. Would Christianity have spread so fast if adherents had to undergo a painful snip of their privates and couldn’t eat pork again? Maybe not. I think that’s what many people have in mind when they give Paul a pre-eminent position.

  15. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 26, 2014

    Religion used to sound so simple to me, but this stuff (the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, atonement, exaltation, incarnation, etc.) really is complicated. Did people in the first century really think in such complicated ways?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Paul is pretty complicated (read Galatians 3-4!!). But some of the topics (trinity, e.g.) were not broached yet in the first century; and the topics that were (atonement, divinity) were not worked out yet with the theoretical sophistication of later times.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  February 23, 2015

      Like the old Jewish joke, “Why do we need a middle man when we can go straight to the top!?” Much simpler.

  16. Avatar
    prairieian  April 26, 2014

    It is quite probable I have missed the point somewhere, but my assumption regarding Paul’s conversion was that he had absolutely heard from others the stories and claims about Jesus as the messiah and as the Christ, He just didn’t believe any of it and hence his persecution of those who spread these stories as blasphemy. Paul’s conversion en route to Damascus via the direct intervention of Jesus implies Paul’s effectiveness as an opponent of this very early Christianity. Once Jesus and his gospel message was revealed, Paul’s zealous nature was redirected, as it were, to the spread of Christianity and not to its eradication. Thus his ‘receiving the gospel from Christ directly’.

    For me the gentile aspect of Paul’s approach to Christianity is why the new faith prospered. It was open to all and open to different cultures to fit local circumstance. The Torah can be seen to be a straightjacket in this regard, whereas Paul’s Christianity was far more accessible to outsiders. Obviously, given the subject matter of Paul’s “letters of correction to recalcitrant congregations” this flexibility could cross the occasional line, but nonetheless the fundamental openness has to be a critical factor in the spread of the new faith.

    I have just finished your new book and am still digesting it – thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I will have to explore some of your earlier volumes for sure.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  February 23, 2015

      On the other hand, Judaism was open in that it did not teach that one could never attain a sufficient relationship to the one God if a person was not Jewish whereas, the New Testament, in at least 15 places (and, loosely speaking, fundamentalist Christians today), believe and teach that, if you don’t believe in Jesus Christ, you are out of right relationship with God and cannot have salvation. This to me is the hypocrisy of the cliché that the Old Testament God was all about anger, wrath, jealousy, and punishment and that the New Testament God is all about love and forgiveness. Poppycock. One might say that God so loved the world that he gave the Torah to the Jews but did not require everyone to live by it but God so lacked love for all the world that, unless you believe he gave you a free gift–which is invisible, you’re doomed. I am not a religious Jew; I’m just saying that this perspective makes perfect sense to me. I understand being punished for murdering someone but for not believing something? Very, very strange….

  17. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  April 27, 2014

    Dear Bart,

    This question/topic is not relevant to this post’s discussion, but it is something that might be on a lot or readers of HJBG minds, that is, degrees of divinity. I include the CNN link below to the recent canonization of two popes for the miracles that the Vatican church believes occurred as a result some people praying to God, through the pope/saints, to be healed.

    So this ancient institution of a billion people says God is somehow working through these men in ways that “He” does not do through other less special people, such as the rest of us.

    So these pope/saints have been granted some kind of divine power, (sound familiar?) and yet, both of them are fully human. I don’t believe in the supernatural, but the issue of degrees of divinity is still being taken seriously by a lot of people. Might you take this up in a future post? Just a thought.



  18. Avatar
    madmargie  April 27, 2014

    Because most Christianity as we know it uses Paul’s theology as their theology instead of preaching God’s Kingdom as Jesus did, it appears to me that John Bradbury may have it right.

    Otherwise, all churches would be teaching about God’s Kingdom on earth instead of salvation theology.

  19. Avatar
    toejam  April 27, 2014

    Off-topic, but this thought just occurred to me: If you no longer believe that there was an empty tomb, and Paul never mentions that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in 1 Corinthians 15, do you still believe Mary was one of the original people who had a “vision” of the risen Jesus? And if so, on what grounds? Why shouldn’t anyone think that her role is as dubious as the historicity of the role of Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, I think Mary had a vision; otherwise I don’t know why shed be so prominent in the Gospel narratives.

  20. Avatar
    Arlyn  April 27, 2014

    It can be noted from DSS material, that belief existed that salvation resulted from God’s grace. I can readily see how Jesus believed to be divine would be inserted as an author of grace, but understanding the blood atonement of Jesus as a necessity is harder to grasp why that change occurred. Hadn’t human blood sacrifice become an anathema to the Hebrews? Do you think that the idea of Jesus blood atonement came after the Christian movement was Hellenized?.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      I think the idea of a blood atonement was prominent in Judaism (yes, not a human sacrifice, but the Christians insisted this was different from someone killing his daughter as a sacxrifice: God did this one). My sense is that it was one of the earliest understandings of Jesus’ death, among Jews, who saw this as the “perfect” sacrifice so that temple sacrifices were no longer needed.

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