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The Core of Paul’s Gospel

A lot of people (at least in my experience) think that Paul is the one who should be considered the “founder” of Christianity – that he is the one who took Jesus’ simple preaching about the coming kingdom of God and altered and expanded it into a complicated doctrine of sin and redemption, being the first of Jesus’ followers to maintain that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus that brought about salvation.   In my previous post I tried to show that this can’t be the case, because Paul was persecuting Christians already before he had converted, and these were certainly people who believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

There is a second reason for thinking that Paul is not the one who invented the idea that Jesus’ death was some kind of atoning sacrifice for sins.  That’s because Paul explicitly tells us that he learned it from others.

Those of you who are Bible Quiz Whizzes may be thinking about a passage in Galatians where Paul seems to say the opposite, that he didn’t get his gospel message from anyone before him but straight from Jesus himself (when he appeared to Paul at his conversion).  I’ll deal with that passage in my next post, since I don’t think it says what people often claim it says.  But first….

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Were Jesus’ Followers Crazy? Was He? Mailbag June 4, 2016
Was Paul the Founder of Christianity?



  1. Avatar
    kbader3  June 3, 2016

    Though it is not factually accurate, as you well point out, I have often felt Christianity seems founded on Paul rather than Jesus. Even though Paul didn’t invent what he wrote, he’s still the one who was published (can we say those teachings founded?) In my experience the writing in Romans seems to have influenced most what is today mainstream Christianity. And it felt refreshing to read this blog because it has driven me crazy for years that the teachings of Jesus got somehow trumped by Paul’s. I’ve often wondered: How come no one seems to notice Jesus didn’t say a single time in the Gospels: ‘and when after three days I rise, forever more people need to believe in it in order to be saved’ ? (Also seems like in parts of Romans Paul defines “righteousness” in old school Jesus ways of who you are/works, and then in other parts it becomes belief in Jesus).

    –just another layman’s voice in the wilderness, thanking you Bart for continuing your nourishing blogs that help some of us be more educated than could otherwise hope for

    • AoSS
      AoSS  June 3, 2016

      I would recommend the book “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra. He isn’t an “expert” in the field, but he isn’t an amateur either. He does overstate some of his arguments, but I do find the overall thesis quite convincing. It argues that gMark is essentially a retelling of the story of Paul.

      If true, then with gMark being the source for gMatt and gLuke, and the idea that gJohn “cannibalized” the synoptics, then modern Christianity is very Paul inspired, though it might not be considered “founded on Paul”.

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      teresa  June 4, 2016

      I’ve always thought that Jesus and Paul were preaching different things. Jesus was speaking to the Jewish nation not to anyone else. Paul doesn’t look to the earthly Jesus but to the resurrected Jesus where there is no Jew or Greek. I think that if we try and combine the two all we get is muddle.
      Teresa x

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    RonaldTaska  June 3, 2016

    How is your back?

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    john76  June 3, 2016

    Human beings, for Kant (according to Heidegger), are fundamentally moral (in a way that is grounded by human freedom). Human ethical action operates in agreement with what Kant calls the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative says ” Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” This does not mean “If you want to be ethical, then do “x,” because that would be a “Hypothetical Imperative” (if-then). Rather, it means that the very foundation of the human Self, in its actions, are ethical because the self is “free” from artificial constraints, and “freely submits” itself to the Categorical Imperative as a rule. Kant illustrates this for humans in relation to animals. Whereas we shouldn’t get mad at a dog for chewing up the couch (since the animal doesn’t know any better), if a person takes out a knife and cuts up our couch, we will probably sue them. The difference is that, unlike animals, it is imprinted on humans as an innate idea that our actions, good, bad, and neutral, are linked to us in a way that we are responsible for them. This is somewhat analogous to what the apostle Paul says about The Law being written on the heart of the gentiles. Paul writes “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:15).”

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  June 5, 2016

      I agree that, in simple terms, most people are good at heart. But I don’t think we were “made” that way. I think our propensity to treat our neighbors better came about through social evolution. Through time, most people just learned what ways of behaving works better if people are to get along.

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    Iris Lohrengel  June 4, 2016

    To 1 Cor 15:1-8 and Paul’s resurrection chapter: It is not clear in 1 Cor 15:3 to whom Paul refers to when he states ‘that which I also received’. He does not mention from whom exactly he ‘received’. It may not mean that he ‘received’ it from the other apostles. By saying that he transmits what ‘he also received’ he might refer to the visionary revelations (Gal 1:12) of Jesus Christ, which not only others ‘received’, but he also. This would fit with what follows in 1 Cor 15:5-8. In verse 1 Paul reminds the Corinthians that he declared to him the gospel (the euaggelion, ‘good news’, not a theological creed but something which is really good news), and they ‘received’ it, Greek ‘paralambano’, took it in, received with the mind, understood it. It is through this understanding, through the ‘good news’, that people are ‘saved’, in Greek ‘sozo’, healed, made whole (not in the future but already now). This ‘good news’ has become apparent, made clear, through Jesus’ resurrection.

    When Paul in 1 Cor 15:5-8 states that Jesus was ‘seen’ (some Bible translations have ‘Jesus appeared’) he uses the Greek ‘optanomai’, which is otherwise only used one more time in Rom 15:21. ‘Optanomai’ is used quite a bit in the NT Gospels, for example Mt 5:8 “Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall ‘see’, ‘optanomai’, God”. The meaning is more ‘behold’, rather than ‘physically see’. In 1 Cor 9:1 Paul claims: “Am I not an apostle? .. Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” The Greek for ‘seen’ here is ‘horao’, which also means ‘to see with the mind’. In Mark 16:9-20 (the added verses) it is interesting to note that the word used for ‘appeared’, that Jesus ‘appeared’ to Mary Magdalene, and that he ‘appeared’ to the other disciples is the Greek ‘phaino’ and ‘phaneroo’, which means ‘bring forth into the light, cause to shine, become manifest, appear to the mind’. Was Jesus seen in a vision, as Mary Magdalene claims the Lord appeared to her in a vision in the Gospel of Mary? Or as he appeared to Ananias, in a vision? Or was he raised with a spiritual body and it was this Jesus that ‘appeared’ to the disciples? Why would then not the Greek word for physically seeing, for seeing with the eyes, be used?

    It has been noted that in the context of 1 Cor 15:3-5 the words ‘according to the scripture’ are found nowhere else in Paul’s writings, nor any other reference to ‘the twelve apostles’. I would think there are good grounds to at least consider that the verses may be an orthodox interpolation and not part of the early tradition. That Jesus died ‘for’ our sins, that his death was a blood sacrifice to atone ‘for’ our ‘sins’ (transgressions against the law of God), was the theological interpretation that emerged from the Jewish-cultural-religious-traditional context. It has also been noted that it was only later that Jewish Christians searched the Hebrew scriptures for passages to affirm their claim of Jesus being the ‘expected Messiah’ according to the scriptures (as apparent from the Gospel of Matthew).

    I do not think that Paul believed that Jesus’ death was some kind of atoning sacrifice for sins. That Paul did not interpret Jesus from within the Jewish tradition becomes clear by constant and sharp attacks against the ‘Judaizers’, Jewish Christians, who insisted on observing and following Jewish religious traditions (Phil 3:1-9).

    So what is ‘the good news’? What is the revolutionary importance of Jesus’ resurrection? It is true that the belief in the bodily resurrection ‘at the end of times’ was (and is) prevalent in the Jewish tradition. This is what Martha believed after her brother Lazarus had died (Jn 11:24). But Jesus corrects her: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die.” (Jn 11:25-26). Not ‘die and raised again’, but ‘shall never die’. Like Jesus told the thief who was crucified together with him: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk 23:43)

    Paul’s ‘good news’ is this, that ‘God revealed His Son in (!) me’ (Gal 1:16), and ‘do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in (!) you?” (2 Cor 13:5) “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in (!) you?” (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 4:6-7) “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19) “For you are the temple of the living God.” (2 Cor 6:16) “God, who made the world and everything in it… does not dwell in temples made with hands…. He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and more and have our being, … for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:22-28), ‘sons of God’ (in Greek ‘huios theos’, like Jesus was ‘huios theos’) and ‘children of God’, and ‘co-heirs with Christ into the kingdom’. (Rom Chapter 8). The temple of God, our body made of blood and flesh, will die and rot, but the Spirit of God within us is eternal and returns ‘to the Father’ from where it originates. “And so it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living being. The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”” (1 Cor 15:45). Paul believed that through Jesus’ resurrection we were shown by Jesus, the first-born among many brethren, that we are more than a perishable body, that that which gives us life, the power which arranges myriads of atoms into cells and into a body, and which vivifies unconscious particles of matter so that they become ‘living beings’, that power is the life-giving spirit within. It is through Jesus’ resurrection that we may become aware that this life-giving spirit within is more real than our perishable body, and then we can begin to live like ‘spirituals’, focusing on ‘the things of the Spirit’.

    Because Jesus was born in Judea, and was Jewish ‘according to the flesh’, it is assumed that he must have followed Jewish traditions, but this is not necessarily so. Jesus was just Jesus, living and teaching out of his own direct experience of ‘oneness with the Father’. It is assumed that because in Judea at the time of Jesus there roamed apocalyptic teachers, that Jesus also was an apocalyptic teacher, but this is not necessarily so. Jesus’ understanding of ‘the kingdom of God’ was not ‘God’s reign imposed on earth through some sort of apocalyptic cataclysmic event.” He taught “the kingdom of God is within (‘entos’, within) you” (Lk 17:21). Is it not possible that the apocalyptic sayings ascribed to Jesus did not originate with him but emerged from the social-religious context of his time? It is striking that in Mark’s ‘apocalyptic’ chapter 13 we find at least five sayings from the Gospel of Thomas, which in GTh had the purpose to communicate a purely spiritual understanding. But in Mark 13 they are used in the context of ‘fire, division, destruction’, probably reflecting the re-interpretation of some of Jesus’ sayings caused by their devastating experience of the Jewish war (66-70 CE). If the meaning of Jesus’ sayings and parables often was not clear even to his disciples, with the traumatic experience of the war people might have said, ‘ah, this is what he meant when he said that’, when it was not what he meant at all.

    All Bible quotes are NKJV.

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    Jana  June 4, 2016

    I was wondering why Paul persecuted the Jewish Christ followers. And I confess to being a little unclear/confused as I try to connect the dots for myself (exercising those little gray cells 🙂 .. how do we know that Paul persecuted the Christians because they were preaching the resurrection and not for other reasons? It seems like a big jump. Are you then saying that we really don’t know how Christianity went Christ’s original teaching about the Apocalypse to Christ becoming the embodiment of salvation via his death and resurrection?

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    Iris Lohrengel  June 6, 2016

    I just had a another look at 1 Cor 15:5, 7, what also strikes is that In 1 Cor 15:5 it says that Jesus, after he rose again, was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve, and again in in 1 Cor 15:7 it says that ‘the was seen by James, then by all the apostles’. Are ‘the apostles not ‘the twelve’? Another thing that is striking, if there had been a discussion going on in early Christianity, if Jesus rose physically in body or spiritually, and such a discussion was if fact going on, why would Paul not be more adamant about stressing Jesus’ bodily resurrection? He never mentioned that Jesus ‘sat with the twelve and ate with them’, or that ‘Thomas touched his wound’. Maybe Jesus did resurrect with a spiritual body, which could appear and disappear and pass through walls, so then we would have another thing, not a physical body of flesh and blood and neither a purely visionary appearance, but some sort of ethereal, spiritual, body. I don’t know. To Paul Jesus clearly appeared in a vision, as he did to Ananias, and Mary Magdalene in her Gospel of Mary (if it were written by her, that is).

    I started revising the letters of Paul, first Galatians and then Philippians, and got stuck with Phil 3:20-21 “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” I looked at the Greek “Gar hemon politeuma hyparcho en ouranos ek hos kai apekdechomai soter kyrios iesous christos hos metaschematizo hemon tapeinosis soma eis autos ginomai symmorphos autos doxa soma kata energia autos dynamai kai hypotasso pas heautou”. Is the following translation possible:

    For our citizenship/birthright/origin is [hyparcho = to begin under, to come into existence, to come forth, hence to be there. ‘Is’ does not connote a future event, but refers to ‘now’] in heaven from which we also receive [apekdechomai = usually translated as ‘wait for’, but primary meaning is ‘receive, welcome, accept from some source] the saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform [mataschematizo = to transform one’s self into someone, to assume one’s appearance and likeness] our humble [tapeinosis = not rising far from the ground, low estate, i.e. unaware of our birthright] body into himself, becoming [ginomai = becoming, coming into existence, does not connotate future, but becoming ‘now’] in the form of [= symmorphos, with the form by which a child comes after/reflects its parents in that which is intrinsic and essential rather than that which is outward and accidential] his glorious body according to the working of his power and calling/appointing/ordaining all to himself.”

    In 1 Cor 1:3 “so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ”, the word used here is also apekdechomai. Could it be “so that you come short in no gift, receiving the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ”?

    Parousia is commonly translated as ‘coming’, but its primary meaning is ‘presence’. It could perfectly be employed in 2 Cor 7:6-7 or Phil 1:26 as ‘presence’ (cf. Phil 2:12, 2 Cor 10:10). 1 Thes 4:15 “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive [zao = have the true life in God] and remain *until the coming of the Lord* [= eis parousia kyrios] will by no means precede those who are asleep”, the Greek ‘eis parousia kyrios’ could equally be translated to mean that ‘we who have the true life in God and *remain in the presence of the Lord*, [the experience of Christ-in-us].

    In 1 Cor 4:5 we read that “therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things…”. The Greek word used for ‘come’ is erchomai, which in addition to physically ‘come’ also may mean ‘to appear, to come into being, to be established, to become known’. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon also denotes ‘erchomai’ to mean ‘Christ’s invisible return from heaven, i.e. of the power which through the Holy Spirit he will exert in the souls of his disciples (Jn 14:18-23), of his invisible advent in the death of believers, by which he takes them to himself in heaven (Jn 14:3), to submit one’s self to the power of light (Jn 3:20)’. So ‘erchomai’ does not necessarily refer to a physical coming. When Paul speaks about ‘the coming of Christ’, what he rather refers to is the ‘becoming present’ of Christ in us (Gal 1:16, 2:20, 2 Cor 13:5) and for this he writes that he will ‘labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you.” (Gal 4:19)

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    john76  June 3, 2017

    1 Corinthians 9:1 seems to be a little contrary to 1 Corinthians 15:6. On the one hand, we seem to have Paul saying that seeing the risen Christ was one of the hallmarks and special gifts from God of being selected to be an apostle (“Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?), while 1 Corinthians 15:6 says “everyone” was seeing the risen Jesus (He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once)! Perhaps one of the passages is interpolated?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2017

      It’s a good question: would Paul have thought all 500 were apostles? My sense is that being an apostle for Paul involved two things: 1) having seen Jesus after his death (a sine qua non) and 2) having been “sent” by Jesus on a mission to convert others. The word apostle means “one who is sent” so I think the latter is also a sine qua non, and probably Paul thinks the 500 were not all sent by a personal commission.

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    john76  October 23, 2017

    Paul thought (or so he says) the apocalypse had begun. He calls Jesus the “first fruits (1 Cor 15:23)” of the general resurrection of souls at the end of the age. Paul was waiting for the time when God would intervene in history and bring about the full end of the age for everyone. In the meantime, waiting for this second phase, as I said, Paul thought Christ’s sacrifice had created a massive blood magic spell that, functioning as the Passover and Yom Kippur sacrifices for all time, fulfilled the law and served as atonement. As I said above, Paul is not just calling Christ the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7), but also that we are “unleavened (1 Cor 5:7)” because of Him. This fits in nicely with the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed/poetry that says Christ “died for our sins (1 Cor 15:3-4). Since these two passages both occur in the same epistle, they seem to reinforce and interpret one another. So Paul taught that the apocalypse had started, and was waiting for the second phase, all the while telling people they should live expectantly, but understanding that they were living under the salvific act where Christ’s sacrifice served as a one-time do-all Yom Kippur/Passover sacrifice.

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