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Paul’s Gospel Message

QUESTION

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?

 

RESPONSE

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?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    KevinBradshaw  April 27, 2014

    In Jesus and Judaism E.P. Sanders, in order to draw a continuous causal thread from Jewish eschatology through teachings of Jesus and on through Paul. He points out that the fact that the apostles in Jerusalem would be on board with Paul’s mission to convert Gentiles implies that they thought the end was imminent. The only dispute we know of being over to what extent Gentile converts would have to obey Jewish law. (What were they thinking? How many uncircumcised grown men want to be circumcised??!!) Sanders of course uses this as evidence to support the thesis of Jesus as a first century apocalyptic Jew, but I think it helps to illustrate the point you make here. If James and Peter weren’t okay with Paul’s teaching the resurrection, I think he might have mentioned it.

    There isn’t any historical evidence at all that Paul had any other disagreement with the apostles in Jerusalem or any objection to Paul’s teaching the resurrection at all, is there? It would seem quite odd if a former Pharisee shows up out of the blue wanting to spread the good news of the resurrection and atonement, while Peter and James say well “he died three years ago, brought no kingdom (of heaven, of God, or otherwise), but hey, knock yourself out.” And James (as learned in your book on the subject, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) probably didn’t become a follower until after Jesus’ death, and that fact needs explaining.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      No, no evidence that they disagreed on the ideas of atonement and resurrection — just other things (table fellowship with gentiles)

  2. Avatar
    nichael  April 27, 2014

    This is not connected to the current post but I have a more general question concerning a topic in “How Jesus became God” (perhaps there should be a separate page for such questions. 😉 )

    Concerning the discussion about the bodies of prisoners not receiving “proper” treatment following crucifixion:

    One of the few pieces of actual archaeological evidence we have about crucifixion involves the body of one “Yehochanan” (most notable because of the nail found piercing the ankle bone).

    The relevant point here is that the remains of Yehochanan were found in an ossuary (engraved with his name). While, presumably, the body may not have been given a formal “tomb burial”, can’t this be counted as an example of at least one crucified prisoner whose body was not carried off by scavengers nor simply tossed into a common grave, but actually treated with some respect?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      Yes, the Yehochanan find is very very very interesting. Unfortunately, it’s not evidence of much of anything because we don’t know anything about him or his circumstances. Why was he executed? What were the charges? Was it by Romans? (I assume so.) Was he wealthy? Was his family well-connected? Was he executed on the birthday of an emperor? Was he left on the cross for five or six days before being buried? What was his first burial and where? And so on — I have a hundred questions, and don’t have answers for them.

      • Avatar
        FrankJay71  April 29, 2014

        I don’t know if you commented on this before, but in a previous post you indicated that one of your strong objections about belief in the tomb was that in Roman crucifixion practices, they never allowed proper burials of the condemned. In Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 4, Chapter 5, Paragraph 2, he mentions the Jews taking bodies of the crucified and burying them before sundown in accordance with Deuteronomy. I think the context implies that they were crucified under Roman Law. Sounds very much like the circumstance of Christ’s supposed burial.
        Should I not read too much into this passage?

        Thanks

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

          I may post on this issue, since I’ve been asked it several times. For now: the most important thing is to read the passage *in its context*. Which crucified people is Josephus referring to? This is a very specific set of cases that he is discussing, of no relevance, in my judgment, to general practice. (Note when and where these crucifixions were evidently taking place. )

  3. Avatar
    prince  April 27, 2014

    So from whom did paul specifically receive his pre-pauline creed regarding incarnational christology? Which specific disciples? or Which early church? jerusalem, hellenic?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      I wish we knew!!!

      • Avatar
        prince  April 28, 2014

        So is it highly likely that Paul may not have received the pre-Pauline creed regarding incarnational christology from the actual disciples of Jesus?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

          I doubt it very much.

          • Avatar
            prince  April 29, 2014

            Sorry Dr Bart… you mean you doubt that the disciples DID adhere and convey the message of incarnational christology to Paul that he received as a pre- pauline creed?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 29, 2014

            Yes, I do not think that hte original disciples of Jesus had an incarnation Christology. But I do think there were other Christians who did, and one of them for example produced the poem that is now in Phil. 2:6-11.

  4. cheito
    cheito  April 27, 2014

    DR Ehrman:

    YOUR COMMENT:

    If following the law could bring about salvation, Christ would not have had to die. And so the Law is not part of what is required for salvation. Only faith in the death of God’s messiah is what matters. But if the Law doesn’t matter for salvation, then it doesn’t matter if someone follows the Law. Even more than that, anyone who thinks they have to follow the Law has completely missed the point. That’s why Gentiles who start following the Law are in danger of losing their salvation, because in doing so they show that they do not really believe that it is the death and resurrection of Jesus – and only the death and resurrection of Jesus – that makes a person right with God. And if they don’t believe that, then they cannot be saved.

    MY COMMENT:

    I’ll agree with you that following the MORAL law only, without initially believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead will not save us. However the MORAL law, the commandments spoken by God Himself on Mt Sinai, that is, you shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, etc, are not nullified when we accept Christ by faith. Romans 3:31 makes the point that through faith we establish the law.

    ROMANS 3:31-Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

    Furthermore in Romans 13:8-10 Paul indicates that the way we fulfill the law is by loving our neighbor. He says Love does no wrong to a neighbor therefore Love fulfills the law.

    ROMANS 13: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9-For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10-Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    GALATIANS 5:13-For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14-For THE WHOLE LAW IS FULFILLED in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 15-But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

    YOUR COMMENT:

    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.

    MY COMMENT:

    I’ll agree that we gentiles or Jews are not obligated to keep the ceremonial and dietary laws kept by the Jews under Moses. We don’t have to be circumcised. We don’t have to abstain from eating pork, etc. However Paul also instructs us to remain in the condition in which we were called, being circumcised or uncircumcised doesn’t matter. If we abstain from eating pork or consuming it doesn’t matter either. If we drink wine or don’t drink it doesn’t matter. if we observe a holiday or not observe a holiday is not important to God. WHAT MATTERS IS KEEPING THE MORAL LAW.

    1 CORINTHIANS 7:18,19-Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19-Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but WHAT MATTERS is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20-Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

  5. Avatar
    Kempster  April 27, 2014

    In the book you point how adopted sons in antiquity had higher status than natural-born sons, which would account for the attractiveness of an exaltation Christology. If this view of adopted vs. natural children is correct, why would there need to be a “backward Christology” movement, in which Jesus becomes God’s begotten son at birth?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      It was an incredibly exalted Christology from the get go. And Christians made it even more and more exalted with the passing of time, until Christ wasn’t the adopted son of God but was the co-eternal Son who had always existed with and was of the same substance as the Father. An incredible development….

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  February 24, 2015

        Bart, you suggested elsewhere I read your “How J. Became God” and I will. Just have to say here, since you put it so boldly that “It was an incredibly exalted Christology from the get go,” that it makes no sense to me that illiterate Galilean Jews could have had such a high (if not the highest) Christology. You said in that earlier post that the beginnings of a high Christology came with the Apostles’ (or some other Jewish followers of Jesus?) belief that Jesus had been resurrected. Not that I believe their beliefs had to have logically sound relationships to one another, but, even though it might have been an uncomfortable jolt to Jewish thinking, there’s nothing un-Jewish about believing that Jesus was the messiah even though he’d been crucified or believing that God had raised him or even somehow exalted him as a very especially favored son of God or that he would return from wherever he was to complete the tasks a Jewish messiah of “power and grandeur” could have been expected to carry out. But it does not seem credible that these Galilean Jews would have lept from such beliefs to a believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection meant he was at the right hand of God and had salvific power (sufficient unto itself for salvation) and that Jesus was at least partly divine. That the Apostles were truly illiterate Galilean Jews that seems to me some evidence in itself that there were more differences between them and Paul than just circumcision and diet. If anything a lack of high Christology, it seems to me, should be the default assumption and suspicion over statements to the contrary that were composed later by non-Apostles should be suspect.

  6. Avatar
    hwl  April 28, 2014

    What did Paul mean by “being saved”? Today, conservative and fundamentalist Christians equate salvation to avoiding hell and entering heaven. Is Paul’s picture of salvation very different?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      “Saved” for Paul was a technical term referring to what *would* happen to a person on the day of judgment, yet to come.

  7. Avatar
    jpgoldberg  April 28, 2014

    I have long been fascinated with the development of (small “c”) catholicism. The idea that God is the god for all of humanity is to me a big deal and something that I admire about Christianity. I would like pointers to where I can learn more about the development of this idea.

    My (untrained and uninformed) speculation:

    Once Jews became monotheistic (instead of “there is one god for us”) it becomes harder (though not impossible) to imagine such a god being linked to a particular tribe. One could say, “well, this is the one god for all of humanity and He wants our people to in charge. But I do think that as the world modernizes and becomes a bit less tribal that position becomes harder to hold.

    Jesus really didn’t seem to pay much attention to Gentiles. We’ve got one story in which he is flattered into ministering to a Gentile (Matt:15:21-28, i.e., “even dogs get crumbs from the master’s table”), and we’ve got a the highly dubious Matthew 28:19. As, you (Dr Ehrman) said it was Paul’s vision that salvation was available to the Gentiles.

    To what extent did “the Twelve” preach to non-Jews? Can we glean anything from Acts about such history? And if they did they pick up this idea independently of Paul? (I’m guessing that the answer will be “we just can’t tell”, but I’d love to know.)

    Paul also appeared to be actively hostile to Gentiles becoming Jews. It would be one thing for him to say that it is unnecessary. It is another thing to rant against it and wish that the “knife would slip”. Are there any theories about this. (I’ve got speculation of my own, but I’d prefer to hear from scholars).

    So in short, is there something anyone can point me to in English that discusses the history of this “God is god for all of humanity”? I’m happy to (attempt to) read things written largely for scholars, but I’d need something written in English and would prefer something that attempts to review the various schools of though.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 28, 2014

      There have always been universalists among us — people that believe the salvation brought by Christ applies to all people, believers or not. But I’m afraid I don’t have bibliography on the tip of my head to suggest — maybe someone else on the blog does? My sense is that the 12, or at least their leader, Peter, preached principally to Jews, although the book of Acts definitely wants to claim that the Gentile mission was given by God to Peter before Paul showed up on the scene. Historically, I doubt it…. (Since Paul indicates that Peter’s mission was strictly to the circumcised)

      • Avatar
        jpgoldberg  April 30, 2014

        Thank you so much for your response. I wasn’t so much asking about Universalism (everyone is saved), but instead I was trying to focus on what I may be miscalling “catholicism” (salvation does not depend on ethnicity).

        It does seem that salvation for the Gentiles originates with (or through) Paul. For me, this seems hugely significant in the history of Christianity and the world. Almighty God was the god for all nations.

        I really don’t like “what if” history, so I won’t speculate about whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. But I do think it was something that had to happen eventually. Henotheism is hard to maintain in an increasingly cosmopolitan world.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 30, 2014

          I think Christians before Paul believed that Gentiles could be saved. But they had to convert to Judaism first….

      • Avatar
        Adam0685  May 7, 2014

        jpgoldberg – regarding your question “is there something anyone can point me to in English that discusses the history of this “God is god for all of humanity”? – in terms of ancient Judaism you may find the book by Terence L. Donaldson, “Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE)” helpful.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 15, 2015

      Mr. Goldberg, I think Jews DID believe that God was the God of all humanity. By the 2nd century BCE, the writer of Jubilees (verses 7:20–28) wrote about Noah and his family (who were not Jewish but the new beginning of all human beings) and says Noah gave to his grandsons the ordinances, commandments, and judgments he knew. I wish I could point out exactly where the Hebrew Scriptures say or suggest that the righteous of all men are blessed by God. We can say that the Law was meant for Israel and that does not imply that those outside Israel were condemned in any way. Some Jews might be snobbish or clannish or exclusive (I can say this as a Jew), but it’s not because they think all gentiles are condemned (unsaved and unsaveable). They. certainly are no more arrogant than Christian fundamentalists who think their way is the one and only way.

      • Avatar
        Jeffrey  March 17, 2015

        Thanks SBrundney,

        I certainly never mean to suggest that Jews thought that all gentiles were damned. Obviously such thinking is highly atypical. But I think that this helps make my point that Judaism wasn’t catholic in the way that Pauline Christianity and Islam are. As a consequence, there needs to be a somewhat more flexible notion of monotheism.

        Pretty much every religion has a creation story, and most creation stories don’t leave room for gods of other religions. But at the same time many of these cultures recognize a kind of “god(s) for our people, and different god(s) for your people”. So sometimes your god(s) will be the god(s) of all creation, and other times they will be the god(s) of your people.

        As we know, concepts of the divine change over time within a culture, and so by the second century BCE, God may well have been viewed more of a god of all humanity. But I still contend that it was Paul who really brought the notion that God wasn’t tribal.

  8. Robertus
    Robertus  May 3, 2014

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

    But I’m not surprised that others hear thought that you do:

    “Only faith in the death of God’s messiah is what matters. … But doing so has no bearing on their salvation, which comes only through faith in the death and resurrection of God’s messiah.”

    One can only be saved from Lutheranism by faith in the subjective genitive! And realizing that Luther added the word “only” of ‘sola fide’ to Rom 3,28: “So halten wir es nun, daß der Mensch gerecht werde ohne des Gesetzes Werke, *allein* durch den Glauben.” It is just not there in the Greek: λογιζόμεθα γὰρ δικαιοῦσθαι πίστει ἄνθρωπον χωρὶς ἔργων νόμου.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 5, 2014

      Even the “new perspective” understands that Paul has a doctrine of justification! It’s the understanding of how it *works* differs: it has to do with good works versus the works of the law, not the difference between the subjective and objective genitive.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  May 5, 2014

        Of course. I’m not saying that Paul does not have a doctrine on justification or that the new perspective requires the subjective genitive. But I do think the subjective genitive allows an even better understanding of the Jewishness of Paul.

        You have to admit that you your post here sounds rather like Luther’s sola fide:

        But I’m not surprised that others hear thought that you do:

        “Only faith in the death of God’s messiah is what matters. … But doing so has no bearing on their salvation, which comes only through faith in the death and resurrection of God’s messiah.”

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 6, 2014

          But only if you take it out of context! (Note your ellipsis!)

          • Robertus
            Robertus  May 7, 2014

            Sorry, I wasn’t trying to take your words out of context, just trying to quote from a couple of statements a couple of paragraphs apart.

            It would be interesting if you would post in more detail about your view of the pistis xristou subjective/objective genitive debate. A single article by Richard Hays way back in my graduate school days changed the way I’ve read Paul ever since.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  May 7, 2014

            Yes, Richard is the one who swung the debate around. I’ve never been convinced. Responding would involve some pretty involved exegesis, but I’ll think about it!

  9. Avatar
    gavm  May 4, 2014

    Prof what evidence is there that James converted after the death of Jesus?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 5, 2014

      Well, Paul says so, and he had no reason to make it up, so that’s pretty good evidence.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  February 24, 2015

        “he had no reason to make it up, so that’s pretty good evidence”? Bart, that makes no sense at all. We don’t know what reasons he might have had to make it up. And, when I read Paul at least, I find a man with an enormous ego and an arrogant, sensitive hold on the power he has on the churches he started. He wanted to and did start an entire movement. One might be able to go on and on about hints in the texts of his letters. But the main point is that, aside from evidence there might be of reasons why he might make this or that up, assuming he had none seems to me a very procedure.

  10. Avatar
    Phrygia  April 28, 2016

    Bart, when Paul speaks of his past persecution of the Church, what exactly do think that meant he did? Did it involve violence?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 29, 2016

      I’ve always thought so — but I’m not sure what he means! Was he beating people up??

  11. Avatar
    Zboilen  January 17, 2017

    Hi Bart, where do you think that Paul received the 1 Corinthians 15 creed from? Do you think he received it from the apostles or do we really not know?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2017

      Apart from him hearing it before he wrote it (and possibly using it in his celebration of the weekly Christian meal) I don’t think we know exaclty the line of transmission.

  12. Avatar
    Zboilen  January 17, 2017

    I also read on Dan Wallace’s blog that you date the creed 2-5 years after the resurrection. Why do you think it was this early?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2017

      I don’t recall every saying that. Maybe I did! Does Dan Wallace cite a reference where I say it? My view is that we can’t know how early it is, only that it is prior to Paul’s letter.

      • Avatar
        Zboilen  January 18, 2017

        It was in his article that reviewed his debate with Dan Barker, he wrote, “It is also agreed upon by all teaching scholars (Ludemann, Dunn, Ehrman, etc.) that this creed Paul is quoting in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 dates to within 2-5 years of Jesus’ death.” He didn’t give a source.
        (https://danielbwallace.com/2015/08/01/fact-checking-dan-barker-from-our-recent-debate-june-6-2015/)

        Do you think it could be said with any probability that the creed was formulated this early and that Paul received this creed during his meeting with Peter and James in Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18,19)? Or is it really just speculation?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 19, 2017

          Yeah, actually it’s not agreed on by “all teaching scholars” at all…. And yes, it’s speculation but possible that this was Paul’s source. I lean toward some such view myself.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  January 18, 2017

        Perhaps I missed your argument earlier in the blog for the creed being established before Paul. Right now, all I recall is that it sounds, in so many words, like something pre-packaged. Someone (or some group) before Paul would have had to come up with it. Why could Paul not have done so?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 19, 2017

          The way these things are determined is by seeing if there are non-Pauline words, phrasing, grammar, and style in the passage. If so, possibly he didn’t write it.

  13. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  November 9, 2017

    So, keeping in mind that Paul did not invent Christianity, is it fair to say that Christianity is more the religion of Paul than of Jesus (keeping in mind your thesis of Jesus as itinerant apocalyptic preacher)?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 12, 2017

      Yes, probably — but I don’t think Paul *invented* it. He inherited it.

      • NulliusInVerba
        NulliusInVerba  November 12, 2017

        Thank you. I should have phrased it differently. I wasn’t claiming that Paul invented Christianity but was asking if the religion, as we know it, has more to do with Paul’s viewpoint than Jesus’ viewpoint.

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