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Why Paul Persecuted the Christians

I have been side-tracked by other things, but now can get back to the thread I started to spin, or rather the tapestry I started to weave.  The ultimate question I’m puzzling over is how Christianity became the dominant religion in the empire, and my point at this stage is that before Christianity began to thrive, it was persecuted.  The persecutions go all the way back.  Our first Christian author is Paul, who must have converted to be a follower of Jesus just three years or so after Jesus’ death.  Paul tells us explicitly that before becoming a follower of Jesus he was a persecutor of the church.  And why was he persecuting it?  He doesn’t say directly, buy my sense is that it was for a very basic reason.  He despised their message.  Specifically he could not abide what Christians were saying about Jesus.  Why was that a problem?  Because they insisted he was God’s messiah. In my previous post I indicated something of one of the common views of what the messiah was [...]

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|

How Can Paul Say that Jesus Appeared to The Twelve?

Why did Paul say Jesus appeared to the twelve? Here is an interesting question from my Readers’ Mailbag connected to the tradition that Judas Iscariot killed himself soon after Jesus’ death, leaving only eleven disciples.  Did Paul know about this tradition?  Why does he seem to think there were still twelve disciples after the resurrection? QUESTION: What do you think about Paul saying that Jesus appeared to the "twelve" (Apostles) after his resurrection? (1 Cor. 15:5) I find this to be a big mistake; given the multiple gospel stories about Judas's betrayal and subsequent suicide. Wouldn't Paul have known that there were only eleven Apostles at that time? How Can Paul Say that Jesus Appeared to The Twelve? RESPONSE: Ah, an interesting question, and answering it involves a number of rather unexpected complexities.   The basic question: does Paul know that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and afterward committed suicide? The first issue to address: who among the authors of the New Testament does know about the suicide of Judas?  Here’s an interesting point.  It is not [...]

2022-05-29T14:16:50-04:00April 12th, 2022|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum, Reader’s Questions|

Did Judas Really Betray Jesus? Readers’ Mailbag

My post a few days ago about whether Paul knew that Jesus had been betrayed by Judas Iscariot -- in which I concluded there really was no solid evidence one way or the other -- generated several follow-up questions.  Many of them simply asked: well, did it really happen?   Here is an example, and my response. QUESTION: I may be showing my ignorance here but could it be that Paul doesn’t know/write about Judas’ betrayal because it never happened? Yes, it is in all four gospels but as you’ve pointed out the four gospels do not agree on who showed up at the empty tomb, what they saw, and what they did next so…. If they get that wrong could it be that the Judas betrayal is also a fabrication/legend?   RESPONSE: It's a great question, and I'm completely sympathetic to it.   But I have to say that I think Jesus really was betrayed by one of his own, Judas Iscariot.   In my judgment, that's just where the evidence points. As many of you know [...]

Jesus and Paul: Similarities and Differences

In my previous post I raised the question of whether Jesus and Paul represent fundamentally the same religion or not.  Here I continue the discussion by pointing out what seem to me to be the main similarities and differences between them, as I spelled it out in a post several years ago: *******************************************************************   I have been talking about the relationship of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God to Paul’s preaching about the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the previous post I argued that the fundamental concerns, interests, perspectives, and theologies of these two were different. In this post I’d like to give, in summary fashion, what strikes me as very similar and very different about their two messages. Again, in my view it is way too much to say that Paul is the “Founder of Christianity”: that assumes that he is the one who personally came up with the idea of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation, whereas almost certainly this view had [...]

2020-04-03T01:36:46-04:00January 29th, 2018|Historical Jesus, Paul and His Letters|

Paul’s Views of Women

In this week’s mailbag I take up a very interesting question about whether there are other passages in the New Testament that are found in all of our manuscripts but that appear not to have been originally written by the author.  That is, they were (possibly) passages inserted by a later editor, before any of our surviving manuscripts were made, so that they are universally attested, but probably not original.  That is what I argued for 2 Corinthians 6:14 (it’s a standard scholarly view).  And that prompted the following question:   QUESTION: I hadn’t noticed the oddness of the 2 Corinthians 6:14 passage before, but it does seem out of place. Kind of like the woman-caught-in-adultery story in John 8, where the narrative flows smoother without that insert. Are there any other major examples of significant insertions into the NT books?   RESPONSE: It is important to note the difference between 2 Cor. 6:14 and the passage in John 8.  The latter is missing in our oldest and best manuscripts; the former is found in [...]

More Cutting and Pasting? Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

I have been discussing instances in the New Testament where letters appear to have been cut-and-pasted together.  The key example is 2 Corinthians, but one could make the case (and many have!) that something similar is true of Philippians.  Here is how I explain it in my book The New Testament:  A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.   **************************************************** The Unity of the Letter The first two chapters of Philippians sound very much like a friendship letter written by Paul to his converts. The occasion of the letter is reasonably evident (see especially 2:25–30). The Philippians had sent to Paul one of their stalwart members, a man named Epaphroditus, for some reason that is not disclosed (until chap. 4). While there ministering to Paul, Epaphroditus was taken ill; the Philippians had heard of his illness and grew concerned. Epaphroditus in turn learned of their concern and became distraught over the anxiety that he had caused. Fortunately, his health returned, and he was now set to make his journey back home to Philippi. Paul [...]

2020-04-03T01:39:22-04:00January 8th, 2018|Paul and His Letters|

Paul’s Exalted Self-Image: The Fulfillment of Ancient Prophecy

I am off today to Boston for a week of various professional activities.  Tomorrow morning I will be filming a documentary with an independent film maker on some aspect of the New Testament.  After that I’ll be having lunch with about a dozen members of the blog, and then dinner with three or four.   Following that, on Friday, I will be giving a talk at the Biblical Archaeology Society FEST (a gathering of interested lay folk to hear lectures by scholars for a couple of days).  And then it’s off to my annual professional meeting, with thousands of other biblical scholars from the U.S. and around the world, the Society of Biblical Literature meeting. My talk at the Biblical Archaeology Society will be about Paul and his understanding of his mission.  About a year ago I realized something I had never thought of before.  Paul actually understood himself, personally, to have been predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament as the fulfillment of God’s plan.  Wow.   Here is how I have thought about and [...]

2020-04-03T01:48:37-04:00November 15th, 2017|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Paul on Trial for the Resurrection

In previous posts I have discussed the different Jewish sects that we know about from the first century, at the dawn of Christianity (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Fourth Philosophy) in order to show that (a) there were different understandings of the afterlife among them, but (b) there was a belief in a future resurrection of the dead attested in at least two of the groups: the Pharisees and Essenes.   We don’t know what the eschatological views of the Fourth Philosophy were; possibly different Jews who wanted the violent overthrow of the Roman overlords had various expectations.  We really don’t know. One reason we don’t know is that we don’t have any writings from any of them.  On other hand, that’s true of the Sadducees and the Pharisees as well.  That may seem weird, but it’s the case.   We have no clear and certain writing from any Sadducee in all of antiquity that explains what it is they thought and believed.   Even more strange, from all of antiquity up until the time of the Jewish war, leading [...]

2020-04-17T13:13:03-04:00September 26th, 2017|Acts of the Apostles, Early Judaism, Public Forum|

Did Paul Think Jesus’ Body Remained in the Grave? Mailbag July 14, 2017

  I will address two very different questions in this edition of the Readers’ Mailbag.  If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away, and I’ll add it to the list.   QUESTION: I just finished reading scholar Gregory Riley’s Resurrection Reconsidered. He presents the position that people in the Greco-Roman world had a very different perception about spirits (ghosts) than we do today. Riley states that people living in the first century Roman Empire believed that dead people frequently came back to visit the living, appearing in “bodies” that looked exactly like their former fleshly bodies, and having the same capabilities of their former fleshly bodies: capable of eating food, drinking wine, and even engaging in sex…even sex with the living! The ONLY difference between a spirit body and a fleshly body was that USUALLY a spirit body was impalpable (could not be touched). Riley believes that Paul would have been shocked to hear about an empty tomb as he would have believed that Jesus’ fleshly body would OF COURSE [...]

Was Cephas Peter? The Rest of the Argument

I have received a number of emails asking me about the Cephas and Peter article I started giving a couple of posts ago, and most of the questions, as it turns out, are answered in the *second* half of the article, which I had originally planned not to provide here on the blog.  So now I’ve decided, well—why not? And so here is the rest of the article for anyone who is interested.  For those not interested in all the convoluted ins and outs of the argument, you may want to see the end, the summary and conclusions, as the pay-off of the argument is rather significant.  As with the rest of the article, I have not included any of the footnotes, where I give some of the logic and evidence for my sundry points. As it turns out, I’m not sure I buy the argument anymore.  I’ll explain why in simple terms in a later post.   *******************************************************   The evidence of Paul has not been exhausted by this consideration of Gal 2:7-9.  There [...]

2020-04-03T02:46:41-04:00December 15th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Cephas and Peter in the Writings of Paul (Who Knew Them)

In my previous post I gave the evidence that in the early church there were writers who maintained that Cephas and Peter were *not* the same person, despite what is explicitly said in John 1:42.  As some readers have noted to me, that differentiation *may* have been driven by a very clear and certain reason: in Galatians 2 Paul confronts “Cephas” and blasts him for not understanding the Gospel.  Could there have been a major rift between the two most important apostles of early Christianity?  Surely they were more unified than *that*!  Well, if Cephas was not the same person as Peter, it is a much, much smaller problem.  So maybe that is what was driving early Christians to claim there were in fact two figures, the apostle Peter and the other person Cephas. That post came from a scholarly article I wrote on the topic many years ago.  I’ve decided not to give the entire article here – it gets increasingly technical and rather, uh, boring to general readers.  But I will give here, [...]

2020-04-03T02:46:51-04:00December 14th, 2016|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Are Cephas and Peter Two Different People?

QUESTION: I remember your saying that you once – wrongly – entertained a theory about “Cephas” and “Peter” being two different people. I *don’t* remember your explaining why you’d thought that, and what convinced you the theory was wrong. I’d still like to know!   RESPONSE: I get asked this question on occasion and I’ve decided to do something unusual (for the blog) to answer it.  Years ago I wrote a controversial article on the topic for an academic journal.  Here I thought it might be interesting simply to reproduce the article for readers of the blog, over several posts.  Among other things, this will show – to anyone who is interested in such things – how a work of scholarship on the New Testament is different from a work presenting scholarship to a general (non scholarly) audience. Now that I read through this first of the article, thinking about how it would “play” to a general audience, I think that the problem is not that it is particularly difficult to understand, but simply that [...]

Does Paul Know that Judas Betrayed Jesus?

  QUESTION: In your list of the things Paul tells us about the historical Jesus (he was born of a woman, he was a Jew, he had brothers, he had twelve disciples, etc.) one thing you seem to have left out was the fact that he was “betrayed” on the night he had the last supper.  1 Corinthians 11:23 says “For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you…” Why haven’t you included the betrayal as part of the tradition about Jesus that Paul knows?   RESPONSE: Ah, good question.  Many years ago when I was first teaching I did include that datum as rather important.  I don’t do so any longer any more for one particular (and, in my books, very good) reason: I think the word “betrayed” is a mistranslation of the Greek of the [...]

Carrier and James the Brother of Jesus

I hope I am not beating a dead horse by going at some length into this discussion of James, the brother of Jesus, in response to the Mythicists, who have a very real stake indeed in saying that he wasn’t really Jesus’ brother, since that would mean Jesus existed.  I’m pursuing the matter in part because it is such a key issue and as well to show that it would be possible to argue to all eternity with Mythicists on point after point after point.  Some of them are truly inexhaustible.  If I wanted to spend my entire life and career doing nothing but answering Mythicists rejoinders to my replies to their responses to my comments on their claims – it could occupy my next twenty years! I am giving a taste of what it involves here.  The short story: The historical man Jesus from Nazareth had a brother named James.  Paul actually knew him.  That is pretty darn good evidence that Jesus existed.  If he did not exist he would not have had a [...]

James the Brother of the Lord

In my previous post explaining why I think the Mythicist position – that there never was a man Jesus – is simply untenable, I pointed out that among the things Paul says, none is more specifically relevant than the fact that he indicates that he was personally acquainted with Jesus’ own brother James (along with Jesus’ disciples Peter and John). When Paul mentions knowing and spending time with James, it is decidedly not in order to prove that he knew him.  The comments he makes are completely incidental, explaining to people who already know about James how it is that he, Paul, met with him on a couple of important occasions.   One of these occasions was just three years after Paul converted – so in about 36 CE. At that time Paul paid a visit to Jerusalem to meet with Cephas and James, the leaders of the church there.   Paul is reluctant to mention that he had gone there, since the entire point he is making is that he did not learn anything of relevance [...]

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 [...]

2020-04-03T02:56:12-04:00November 2nd, 2016|Bart's Debates, Mythicism, Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

Paul and the Historical Jesus

In this thread I have been talking about what I discussed in my thirty-minute presentation at the Mythicist Milwaukee conference, in my debate with Robert Price.  After pointing out a couple of problems with typical Mythicist arguments I devoted the bulk of my time to laying out the positive evidence for my view that whatever else you might want to say about him, Jesus of Nazareth certainly existed as a real human being.  In my last post I stressed the value of the Gospels, and their written and oral sources of information.  There were lots and lots of sources, from the early days of the Christian movement, some of them coming straight out of Aramaic-speaking Palestine.  It is almost impossible to explain how you could have so many independent sources saying similar things about the man Jesus unless he really was a historical figure. But there is much more.  Next in my talk I moved to the apostle Paul, obviously a key figure in the debate.  There are thirteen letters written in Paul’s name in [...]

Jesus and Paul on Heaven and Hell

A couple of days ago I indicated on the blog that I am thinking about devoting my next book to the “Invention of the Afterlife” – that is, to the question of where the Christian doctrines of heaven and hell came come.  I asked for comments (and I still welcome them) from people about what they would be interested in seeing in a book like that.  Many, many thanks to everyone who has (so far!) responded to my request! As some of you know, I have already written a *bit* about the topic in an earlier book, Jesus Interrupted.  I thought it might be useful to replay what I said there, just to show where my thinking is at this point (I haven’t developed my thoughts significantly from writing that book, published in 2009) (but I expect they will develop in a big way, once I start working more diligently on the question).  Here is the first half of what I said there.  The second half will come tomorrow.  (For those of you who keep [...]

Does James Contradict Paul?

              I have a number of questions that I want to address in my Readers’ Mailbag, but one particularly important one requires a rather long response, and so I dedicate this entire week’s mailbag to answering it.  Here it is:   QUESTION: Bart, what is your view with regard to Paul and James teaching on the doctrine of justification by faith – are they contradictory?   RESPONSE: Ah, this is a perennial question among readers of the New Testament.  I deal with it at some length in my textbook, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, in a chapter called “Does the Tradition Miscarry,” where I talk about whether Paul saw eye to eye with Jesus, with James, and with later traditions about Paul (e.g. in the Acts of Paul and Thecla).  My answer about the letter of James may surprise some readers, who would expect me to find it completely at odds with Paul.  Here is what I say in the book:   ******************************************************   The most famous passage of [...]

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