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Was Paul the Founder of Christianity? If Not, Then Who Was?

Who is the founder of Christianity? It is often claimed that the Founder of Christianity was the apostle Paul – or at least that he was the co-Founder, along with Jesus. The idea behind this claim is that Christianity is not really about the historical Jesus. Yes, his words are hugely important, and yes it is also important to know that he did all those miraculous deeds.   But his public ministry is not the core of Christian belief.  Instead, the core of Christianity is the belief in his death and resurrection. And this is what Paul preached, not what Jesus preached.  So that even if Jesus’ life and teachings are important, they are not really what Christianity is about.  Christianity is about believing in his death and resurrection for salvation.  And since, in this view, it was Paul who first formulated that belief, he is the founder of the Christianity religion (or co-founder). Paul vs. Jesus: Who is the Christianity Creator? I have never found this line of argument convincing, for two reasons.  The first [...]

2022-06-20T00:07:31-04:00April 24th, 2022|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Why I Am Not A Christian: Is Bart Ehrman a Christian?

A lot of people wonder why I am not a Christian? Is Bart Ehrman a Christian...is a very popular question.  Just now – fifteen minutes ago – I came to realize with the most crystal clarity I have ever had why I am not a Christian.   Of course, as most of you know, I have not called myself a Christian publicly for a very long time, twenty years or so I suppose. But a number of people tell me that they think at heart I’m a Christian, and I sometimes think of myself as a Christian agnostic/atheist.  Their thinking, and mine, has been that if I do my best to follow the teachings of Jesus, in some respect I’m a Christian, even if I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God....or that he was raised from the dead, or even that God exists.  In fact, I don’t believe all these things.  But can’t I be a Christian in a different sense, one who follows Jesus’ teachings? Fifteen minutes ago I realized with startling [...]

Life after Death in the Bible and Beyond: Webinar with Oxford Press

On April 20, 2020, I did a webinar for Oxford University Press.   I have published three textbooks with Oxford and the textbook division has started hosting these events, principally for college and university professors and their students, but anyone is welcome to sign up and join in.   When they asked me if I'd be interested, I thought it sounded like a great idea; and when they asked what I'd like to do it on, I told them the afterlife.  Of course!  It's what I've been thinking about and doing all my research on for the last four years or so -- not what *really* happens in the afterlife (for that I would need more experience, and I'm not eager to have it at this stage of existence, since, well, it will be my last experience and I won't be able to write about it -- but about where the ideas of the afterlife came from, especially those that have been prevalent for most of the past 2000 years.  They entitled the event "Life after Death [...]

2020-05-03T10:02:19-04:00May 3rd, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Me and Jesus

Yesterday I explained why, in my own opinion, I can no longer consider myself a Christian, and I received a lot of responses:  some sympathetic, others not so sympathetic; some seeing the point and others disagreeing. One particular disagreement gets to the heart of what I was trying to say.  Several people (OK, lots of people) have commented that if I follow the ethical teachings of Jesus that in that sense I really am a Christian and might as well admit it.   Part of me agrees with that – it’s what I’ve long thought – but what I came to realize yesterday during my class lecture is that there is a strong sense in which that is also not true.  Here I’ll try to explain. I do indeed try to adhere to the ethical teachings of Jesus as I see them.  He himself summarized the entire Torah of Moses by stating two principal commandments.  The first was Deuteronomy 6:4-6, that you should love God with all your heart, soul, and being.  OK, I don’t follow [...]

Pressing Jeff Siker for Answers: An Intriguing Query and Response

The comments by Jeff Siker on why he is still a Christian even though he, like me, has a thoroughly historical-critical understanding of the Bible (comments posted from four years ago) sparked some interesting responses.  One reader wrote him directly the following pressing questions, and Jeff wrote a reply that I thought was even more germane, interesting, and helpful than the original posts. Here are the questions and his response (as he forwarded them to me).  Jeff, by the way, has said he is happy to answer other questions.  So if you have any, let me know, possibly by making a comment on this post. - Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   QUESTIONS FOR JEFF SIKER: I was extremely interested in the republication of your guest post from Jan. 2013 on Bart Ehrman’s blog this week.  You were addressing an issue paramount in my own life: How can I be a Christian knowing [...]

2021-02-06T00:34:39-05:00January 30th, 2017|Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Jeff Siker Part 2: Why I am a Christian (and yet a New Testament scholar): A Blast From the Past

This is re-post of an interesting set of comments from exactly four years ago by my friend and colleague Jeff Siker, a New Testament scholar who agrees with most of the critical views I have of the New Testament but who is still a believing and practicing Christian. This is part 2.  To make fullest sense of this post, you should read it in conjunction with the one from yesterday. Jeff Siker is the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity, Liquid Scripture: The Bible in the Digital World and Homosexuality and Religion: An Encyclopedia.   ****************************************************************************************************************** Like Bart I became interested in pursuing an academic career, but with some grounding in the life of the church.  And so after my BA and MA (Religious Studies) at Indiana University, I went off to Yale Divinity School.  And so my trajectory from Young Life in high school to Indiana to Yale was rather different from Bart’s trajectory from Moody to Wheaton to Princeton.  Whereas much of Bart’s education involved the study and practice of [...]

2020-04-25T12:27:07-04:00January 29th, 2017|Public Forum|

Why He Is Still a Christian (And a Biblical Scholar): A Blast From the Past

The past two days I have been giving lectures at Michigan State University.  It's been great.  I've had a number of people ask me after my talks if it is possible to be a Christian and still hold the historical views I do.  My answer -- as many on the blog will know -- is OF COURSE!  And that has prompted me to want to repost this guest-post from my historian/Christian friend Jeff Siker, posted exactly four years ago today.   Here (over the course of two posts) he explains a bit about his faith journey and how he has held on to his faith despite his knowledge of biblical criticism.  I'll post part 2 tomorrow. - Jeffrey Siker is also the author of Jesus, Sin, and Perfection in Early Christianity and Homosexuality in the Church.   ***************************************************************************** Jeffrey Siker is an ordained Presbyterian minister and New Testament scholar. Jeff is senior professor of New Testament at Loyola Marymount University. He and I have been friends for over thirty years; he was two years behind [...]

2021-02-07T00:39:02-05:00January 27th, 2017|Public Forum|

Why Don’t I Call Myself a Christian? Mailbag: October 8, 2016

I’ve decided to address two personal questions in this week’s Readers’ Mailbag, one about why I don’t want to call myself a Christian and the other about where the idea for this blog came from.  If you have questions you would like me to address, either personal or dealing with anything having to do with the NT and the history of early Christianity, just make a comment on any post and ask them!   QUESTION: I find it interesting that you and Lüdemann each create an extremely narrow rule separating Christians from non-Christians and then use it to exclude yourselves from Christianity. It is almost as if you somehow intuitively sense that you should not define yourself as being within Christianity, so you take up a narrow rule that “all Christians must believe in physical resurrection” or whatever, so you can declare that you are not a Christian. Not being a Christian is the goal, and making up a rule is the means. What do you think? Faced with similar dissonance, some others find a [...]

Paul’s Converted Vision of Himself

To make sense of how Paul’s conversion affected his actual life, not just his theology, it is important to recall what I said about how it did affect his theology.  I repeat the key paragraph from yesterday’s post before drawing the further even more far-reaching conclusion. To be members of God’s covenantal people, it is not necessary for gentiles to become Jews.  They do not need to be circumcised, observe the Sabbath, keep kosher, or any of the rest.  They need to believe in the death and resurrection of the messiah Jesus.   This was an earth-shattering realization for Paul.   Prior to this, the followers of Jesus – the first Christians – were of course Jews who understood that he was the messiah who had died and been raised from the dead.  But they knew this as the act of the Jewish God given to the Jewish people.  Certainly gentiles could find this salvation as well.  But first they had to be Jewish.  Not for Paul.  Jew or gentile, it didn’t matter.  What mattered was faith [...]

2020-04-03T03:33:15-04:00June 20th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Ramblings on Charity and Religion

QUESTION: Don't you think that being raised in Christianity makes it more likely that you will make decent contributions to others like you do with your charity contributions?  I know that one does not have to be Christian to be decent, but it seems, for many of us, to help increase the odds of being decent at least some of the time.   RESPONSE: This is a really interesting question.  And maybe unanswerable!   Why are those of us who are concerned deeply about others and their welfare so … concerned?  Is it because we are religious?  Or, as in my case, because we used to be religious? In one of my public debates with Dinesh D’Souza a few years ago, this came out as a point of disagreement.   Dinesh believes that only Christianity drives people to be concerned about others who are in need.   For him, it is not religion in general, but Christianity in particular, that makes people want to be charitable. In the debate, I found that view to be a bit outrageous.   Really?  [...]

2017-12-09T08:38:42-05:00April 11th, 2015|Reader’s Questions, Reflections and Ruminations|
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