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Paul’s References to Jesus’ Teachings

So far I have been discussing what Paul says about the historical Jesus in his surviving seven letters. For the next couple of posts I’ll indicate what he says about the teaching of Jesus. Once again there are two observations to make. The first is that he obviously knew that Jesus taught some things. The other is that it is a bit surprising that he doesn’t tell us more. I will be dealing with that second issue soon, when I discuss why Paul doesn’t give us more information about the historical Jesus (there are several options). The following discussion is taken from my book Did Jesus Exist, which was meant to deal more with the first issue: the fact that Paul quotes Jesus on occasion shows at the least that Paul knew Jesus existed (as do the other data that he mentions about Jesus’ life).


The Teachings of Jesus in Paul

In addition to these data about Jesus’ life and death, Paul mentions on several occasions the teachings he delivered. We have seen two of the sayings of Jesus already from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (11:22-24). Paul indicates that these words were spoken during Jesus’ Last Supper. These sayings are closely paralleled to the words of Jesus recorded years later in Luke’s account of the supper (Luke 22:19-20).


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More on Jesus’ Teachings in Paul
More on Paul’s Knowledge of Jesus’ Life



  1. Avatar
    kidron  May 12, 2014

    I suggest that the reverse is true. That is, that the gospel writers mined Paul’s letters and the oral traditions of his Greek speaking churches. There is little evidence that the gospel writers relied on Aramaic traditions either oral or written for their material. They lived and wrote in Greek speaking congregations and thus had access to Paul’s teachings and limited access to the oral traditions of James congregation in Jerusalem.
    We recognize the Pauline influences in the gospels from the stories of Jesus wishing to spread the gospel to all nations on some occasions and yet there are those few passages where Jesus specifically forbids his followers from going to non-Jews. I think this is even seen in those times that Jesus is reported as feasting with prostitutes and publicans where the gospel writers are relying on Paul’s advice to his congregations. The intrusion of the saying of Jesus that not one jot or title of the law shall be abandoned is another one of the obvious examples where Jesus it shown to be diametrically opposed to Paul’s teaching.

    • Avatar
      JEffler  May 14, 2014

      That would be pure speculation, Sir.

      • Avatar
        kidron  May 15, 2014

        It is more reasoned speculation than those who suggest that Paul got his information from the pillars in Jerusalem.

    • Avatar
      willow  May 14, 2014

      You know, you very well may be right.

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    timber84  May 13, 2014

    You mention Luke 10:7, I was wondering, when Jesus was traveling the countryside with his disciples would they have stayed often in the homes of people, or did they sleep outside more often under the stars?

    Would Jesus have gotten pretty hungry some times because he didn’t get to eat very much and what would his diet been like. He probably didn’t get to eat very much meat, except for fish, since disciples who were fishermen would come in handy.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 13, 2014

      Yes, I’ve wondered where tey slept as well, and yes, I imagine they did do without, a good bit. The diet would have been pretty basic.

    • Avatar
      kidron  May 15, 2014

      There are some clues to answer your question. The one quote in Mat 8:20 …. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Obviously in this verse Jesus is calling himself the Son of man and not referring to the heavenly figure in Daniel..

      As to them being hungry on occasion there is the story of Jesus and the disciples eating grain on the Sabbath and the analogy to David and the shewbread. The story is told by Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. Etc/

  3. Avatar
    hschick  May 13, 2014

    Prof. Ehrman, this comment would have been better if it came in when you were discussing your new book. However, I didn’t run into this footnote till about a week ago. Regrettably, I can’t render all the fonts etc. with my browser.
    This is footnote 9 for chapter 9 (Jesus as a Jew) in the book “Constantine’s Sword” by James Carroll.
    “The Father metaphor for the God Jesus faces takes on a larger and larger life in the evolution of the gospels. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks of God as ‘Father’ or ‘the Father’ four times (and the retention of the Aramaic Abba (italics) make Jesus’ historical use of it highly probable). Matthew has Jesus speak in those terms 32 times. This language is in Jesus’ mouth 173 times in John’s gospel. We are surely witnessing evolution in the faith articulation of the early communities.” Lee JESUS AND THE METAPHOR OF GOD, 160

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 13, 2014

    I look forward to the upcoming posts about why Paul did not quote Jesus more often.

    • Avatar
      willow  May 14, 2014

      Maybe because Paul didn’t agree with many of Jesus’s teachings and discounted them?

  5. Avatar
    SJB  May 13, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    I’ver always been puzzled by these references to Jesus’ teachings. I can understand the reference to the Last Supper but of all the things that Jesus must have taught why would his teachings on divorce and supporting evangelists be what you would pick to remember? I would think these issues would be far down on the list. They’re in the gospels but they don’t seem to be the main point at all.


  6. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  May 14, 2014

    Dear Bart,
    I know this is off topic, but WHY do you think Jesus prohibited divorce? I understand he thought this would be how it would be in the coming Kingdom, but why would he think that? Did anyone ask him at the time?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  May 14, 2014

      I don’t really know! It was a social / ethical issue widely discussed in his time, and like most people tend to do, he had a strong opinion!

      • TracyCramer
        TracyCramer  May 15, 2014

        Thanks. I once heard long ago that this prohibition/teaching would have been progressive at the time in the sense that since, as a husband could divorce (dump) his wife for any reason, he would in effect be committing her and the children (if they went with her) to poverty. Therefore this teaching “protected” the woman and family from that arbitrary fate. Have you heard this?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  May 16, 2014

          There were different schools of thought within Judaism, some taking a hard line (like Jesus) others not so hard. But on the whole, rulings were not favorable to women, regardless of how strict they were….

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 15, 2014

    I have been trying to learn how scholars go about dating the writing of the Gospels. At some point, could you write a post or two about this topic? Thanks.

  8. Avatar
    jhague  December 28, 2017

    “a woman is not to be separated from her husband (but if she is separated, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband) ”

    1. Since it states that if she is separated, let her remain unmarried… does “separated” mean divorced? If so, is the passage saying for a woman not to get divorced but if a woman gets divorced then not to get married again unless it is to the husband that she divorced?
    2. Was the idea of remaining unmarried due to the thinking that the end of time was upon them?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2017

      1. Yes, separated here means divorced; 2. Yes, probably so! The idea is that one should not seek to change one’s social situation since, after all, one should be fully devoted to the coming kingdom.

      • Avatar
        jhague  January 2, 2018

        1 Cor 7: 25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that.

        Paul states here that this is his opinion:
        1. Do you find that most Christians still view this as being from God?
        2. Is the “impending crisis” the end of time?
        3. Verse 27 – “bound to a wife” means married, correct?
        4. “Do not seek to be free” means divorced, correct? Or maybe widowed? Or both?
        5. “If you do marry (someone who is free), you do not sin” – This seems to indicate that if someone is divorced and they remarry, they have not sinned (though they are encouraged to not change their current status). I know this is written as Paul’s opinion, but assuming that Christians generally view this as from God, do you find that they look past the “you have not sinned” if you remarry after a divorce or do most Christians view this as instructions to a widow?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          Yes, impending crisis is the coming apocalypse and “bound” and “free” refer to the marriage contract, broken by divorce or death.

          • Avatar
            jhague  January 3, 2018

            So Paul’s opinion, which made it into the Bible, states that a person can be divorced and remarry without sinning. There is nothing said about the reason for the divorce. Does this conflict with what the gospels have Jesus say about divorce and remarriage?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2018

            Paul doesn’t ever refer to “sinning” in his discussions of divorce.

          • Avatar
            jhague  January 4, 2019

            Coming back to an old comment!
            27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin.
            Paul talks about not sinning in these verses. My thought is that if you are free (divorced or widowed) from a wife and marry again, Paul states you have not sinned.
            The conservative church I grew up in thought that anyone who divorced and remarried (except for a scriptual divorce) was living in perpetual adultery. Doesn’t this thinking go against what Paul states?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 6, 2019

            Paul is usually taken to be referring not to divorced people, but to the unmarried. It’s not a sin to marry, but better not to.

          • Avatar
            jhague  January 7, 2019

            Above you mentioned, “… “free” refer to the marriage contract, broken by divorce or death.” So the unmarried seems to refer to someone who was married but no longer is due to divorce or death.
            As we’ve discussed, Paul is stating in this passage to not change one’s social situation due to the end of time coming.
            But then he seems to indicate that if one’s social situation does change, “you do not sin.”
            1. It seems that the conservative church has overlooked the “you do not sin part” when it comes to divorced individuals.
            2. It also seems that this passage has nothing to do with people 2000 years later since “the end” never came.
            Do both of these statements seem accurate?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 8, 2019

            In the context, “free” appears to mean simply “not bound to another,” “unmarried.” He doesn’t explicitly mentioned divorced people here. As to whether his teaching can still be applicable, it’s interesting how people who want to based their ethics on Paul think that *some* of the things he says still apply (the ones they approve of) but *others* don’t (the ones they don’t) . And so some people quote Paul to condemn gay rights but think it’s perfectly fine for a woman not to wear a veil in church. This creates obvious problems!

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