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The Life and Message of Paul

I return now to the next portion of a longer post I’m composing on the New Testament, a general survey in what is now looking like 10,000 words or so?  My most recent segment was an explanation of what we can know about the life and teaching of Jesus:  https://ehrmanblog.org/who-was-jesus/   This one is a corollary: what we can know about the life and message of Paul.

Next to Jesus himself, Paul was the most important figure in the entire history of Christianity. Nearly half the books of the New Testament claim to be written by him; one other book (Acts) is largely written about him.  More than anyone else we know of, he was responsible for the spread of Christianity through much of the Mediterranean world.  And perhaps most important, he significantly developed the theological understanding of the significance of Jesus.  For Paul, far less important than Jesus’ earthly life and teaching were his death and resurrection, which were God’s means of salvation to the world.  It may be too extreme to say that Paul is the “founder” or even the “co-founder” of Christianity, but he certainly is the key figure in the faith after Jesus.

The difficulties in knowing about Paul’s life and teachings are different from what we saw with Jesus.  Unlike Jesus, Paul did leave us a written record.   One problem is that scholars have long argued that six of the thirteen New Testament letters that name him as the author are probably not from his pen, but were written by later followers, probably after his death, claiming his name in order to provide authority for their views.  When exploring his own ideas, scholars therefore limit themselves to Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon – the “undisputed Pauline letters.” We have no authentic writings from him outside the New Testament.

Even the undisputed letters pose difficulties, however, since they are all ….

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Does the New Testament Condemn “Homosexuals”?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    tskorick  December 28, 2019

    I’m confused about the distinction between not having to “become Jews” and yet adhering “to the ethical codes set forth in the Scriptures.” Since the only scriptures in existence at that time would have been one of various configurations of Jewish scriptures, wouldn’t adhering to those amount to leading an essentially Jewish life, just without circumcision?

    Also: go Tarheels!

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Much of the ethical codes of the Hebrew Bible is shared with other ethical systems: no murders, adultery, false oaths, etc. With some differences (e.g., on pederasty). One could follow this code without being circumcised, observing Sabbath, keeping kosher, observing Passover, making a pilgrimmage to Jerusalem, sacrificing in the Temple, etc. See what I mean?

      • Avatar
        dankoh  December 29, 2019

        Well, there is one part of the Jewish code that is unique to the Scripture and which Paul did insist on: no idol-worship. Whether that should be a matter of “ethics” is for us more of a question, but Scripture didn’t make any distinction between its laws, and this is one of the few Scriptural laws (the other being fornication, with some differences) that Paul did enforce.

      • Avatar
        MiriamL613  January 12, 2020

        My view of Paul aligns with Rabbi Jacob Emden’s letter as published in Rabbi Harvey Falk’s book, “Jesus the Pharisee.” Paul reports a vision about Jesus telling him to reach out to the Gentiles, but his formal assignment as “an apostle to the Gentiles” came from James at the Jerusalem Council meeting (Acts 15:25). In that role, he taught the Gentiles the Laws of Noah, a cluster of which is seen in 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:10. In any case, that Paul, decades later, was assigned to the Gentiles, proves that the “Great Commissions” of Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:15 were later emendations. People need not wonder why there seems to be a radical difference between what Jesus taught and what Paul taught. They just need to understand dual-covenant theology which Christianity adopted at the Jerusalem Council meeting — full Torah observance for Jews, the Noahide laws for Gentiles.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  December 28, 2019

    Paul doesn’t go into much detail about his vision of Jesus in the letters, presumably because it was well-known to everyone he’d met–it would have been one of the things he told people about when he was actively proselytizing, and he’s only writing to people he’s already converted himself. He isn’t going to bother to go into detail in a letter about something he’s told them about in person, probably more than once.

    I tend to believe the account given in Acts is more or less the experience he himself recounted later on, and was widely known to Christians of the time. It makes sense his vision would be different from that of earlier followers, who had known Jesus, remembered what he looked and sounded like, saw him as a man, however special.

    Paul never had that experience, so his Jesus is one of the imagination. While it’s possible his unconscious would have given Jesus some familiar physical form, it seems more likely that he would have experienced him as some celestial presence, such as a blinding light (if he was dehydrated, ill, and exhausted on the road to Damascus, he could have had something akin to a near-death experience).

    Why would someone tell a story where Paul saw Jesus as a blinding light? Probably because that is how Paul saw him. Not as a man–perhaps as an angel, as you’ve suggested, but angels usually manifest themselves in human form in the Jewish tradition of that time. Less than God, but more more than human eyes could behold, once the flesh was stripped away. Paul’s vision of Jesus was strikingly similar to the much later conception in John’s gospel.

    And this is the single person most responsible for Jesus being remembered.

  3. Avatar
    eblevine  December 28, 2019

    What do historians think Paul’s view was of whether JEWS should continue to follow the the law. I get that he did not think that, even for Jews, keeping the law was a path to salvation. But from that, did he conclude that Jews no longer needed keep the law at all? Or did he think that they should, but not as a path to salvation, but just for some other reason, like avoiding sin? Did he keep his Pharasaic viewpoint of HOW to keep the law, or did he take a looser view of it over time. If Paul had had a son, would he have circumcised the son? Did Paul himself have continue to keep the law personally. I get that these points are not clear in his writing because he is addressing himself mainly to non-Jews, but how much can we infer about what he thought of these issues?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      It’s a much debated point. He himself says he behaved in a gentile way when among gentiles (1 Cor. 9:20); but he never ever tells Jews to give up their Jewishness or to stop circumcising, keeping kosher etc. My guess is that he thought it was absolutely fine and even right for Jews to retain their Jewish identities as followers of Jesus.

    • Avatar
      tteichma  December 29, 2019

      Well, given that he though Jews should rightly believe as he did, in the new Gospel, I’d say he probably would apply these statements to all who sought to follow the law:

      For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” – Galatians 3

      Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law *had* been given that *could* impart life, then righteousness *would certainly have* come by the law. [but that didn’t happen…] – Galatians 3

      Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised [put yourselves under the law], Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law [which Paul notes cannot be done]. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. – Galatians 5

  4. Avatar
    robgrayson  December 28, 2019

    There seems to be a mistake in the following sentence, in the second paragraph: “For Paul, far less important than Jesus’ earthly life and teaching were his death and resurrection, which were God’s means of salvation to the world.” I think you meant to write “…far MORE important that Jesus’ earthly life and teaching…”

  5. Avatar
    Milagros Ocampo  December 28, 2019

    Excellent Read Dr.Ehrman.

  6. tompicard
    tompicard  December 28, 2019

    >Paul . . spent the next three decades [from mid-30s CE] traveling . . .
    > and possibly reaching as far as Spain

    So you think Paul was released from whatever confinement he endured and left Rome after the two years mentioned at the end of Acts?

    is there any where or way to get more info on this period of his ministry

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      No, I don’t think so. In general I don’t know how much we can trust Acts chronology or reconcile it with what Paul says; Paul himself of course says nothing about being imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial. All we know from Paul is that he wanted to come to Rome (as opposed to having to go there in an appeal to Caesar) and to use it as a base of operation for a mission to Spain.

      • Avatar
        Hngerhman  January 1, 2020

        Dr Ehrman –

        Speaking of inaccuracies in Acts, Acts 9:1 reads:

        “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest”
        ‭‭Acts‬ ‭9:1‬ ‭NRSV‬‬

        The English translation is suggestive but ambiguous as to whether Paul was an actual murderer of members of The Way. It’s not entirely clear to me what exactly “still breathing…murder” means in English.

        Question: Does the underlying Koine grammar in Act 9:1 render any greater clarity in meaning, or a stronger or weaker connotation of Paul being an actual murderer?

        I had two (!) separate conversations back home over the holidays where two different interlocutors stated with *conviction* that Paul murdered people. When asked for one piece of textual evidence he actually did such a thing, the “breathing threats and murder” + “violently persecuted” + being (allegedly) present at Stephen’s martyrdom were trotted out, only to be retracted when the realization set in that these aren’t even decent circumstantial evidence for a murder claim.

        Thanks much as always!

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2020

          Yeah, the Greek is as ambiguous. Breathing murder isn’t the same as murdering. On the other hand, this comes right after Stephen was stoned to death; so possibly it is suggesting Paul was involved wiht other such things. He was involved in Stephen, but conspicuously wasn’t actually chucking stones. So my guess is that Paul is being portrayed as a thrat, not a murderer.

          • Telling
            Telling  January 2, 2020

            For what it’s worth, the George Lamsa Aramaic to English version reads:

            “NOW Saul was still filled with anger and with threats of murder against the disciples of our Lord.”

          • Avatar
            Hngerhman  January 2, 2020

            Awesome, thanks!

  7. tompicard
    tompicard  December 28, 2019

    How can you conclude that Paul thought

    God would [physically] raise all the righteous from the dead, to enjoy [immortally] the kingdom forever [on earth].

    rather than

    God would raise all the righteous from the dead [to live with God], to enjoy the kingdom forever [with God].

    the latter seems more compatible with Enoch’s destiny as well as Jesus’

    Do you think Paul thought Jesus was living physically (eating sleeping, etc) somewhere on earth (In Spain maybe?) ?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Because we don’t have records of Jews who believed that the coming kingdom of God would be in heaven above, the way Christians later said, at least to my knowledge. And no, Paul definitely believed Christ was up above with God in heaven, waiting to come back down to earth to bring his kingdom.

      • Avatar
        jhague  December 30, 2019

        16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.
        1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 (NRSV)

        Did Paul think everyone was going up into the air and then back down to earth?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2020

          Yes, that seems to be his thought. The believers go up to greet the coming king and escort him to his new reign — as happened in secular arrifals of kings.

          • Avatar
            jhague  January 2, 2020

            Who all would believe something like this…mystics, others? Would most educated people of the day believe this?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 4, 2020

            Not highly educated folk, no. But most people? Well, many millions still do!

          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 2, 2020

            Do you maintain Paul Jesus taught kingdom of Heaven will be on “earth” rather than in the “sky of the earth” ?

            like listening to fundamentalist, it is frustrating to hear someone take the first part of a particular scripture
            literally and the immediately following phrase as non-literal

            LITERAL
            >we who are alive, . . . will be caught up
            > in the clouds together with them
            > to meet the Lord in the air

            NON-LITERAL
            > and so we will be with the Lord FOREVER.

            why aren’t both non-literal ? definitely makes more sense to me

          • Bart
            Bart  January 4, 2020

            Yes, my view is that Paul understood the kingdom to be down here on earth, in the physcial body, in the world God originally created for humans and would restore for them.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 3, 2020

            And I like that/your insight that Paul is likening (making an analogy) of the arrival of the Jesus, the heavenly viceroy, with the coming of a secular king. I think that is certainly what Paul is implying by this flowery BUT NON-LITERAL language of Thess 4:16

          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 4, 2020

            > my view is that Paul understood the kingdom
            > to be down here on earth,
            > in the physcial body,

            Jesus definitely and Paul probably clearly understood 2 DISTINCT REALMS of ‘KINGDOM’ (see Matt 6:10)

            you focus TOO much on the ‘Kingdom come on earth’ and seem to brush-off ‘as it is in heaven’

            to my knowledge NO
            >> later Christians [have] sa[id] God’s Kingdom is [ONLY]
            > in heaven above

          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2020

            I don’t brush it off, I’d say. It’s what I used to think. But after a lot of study about it, I decided that this is not what Paul or Jesus was talking about.

          • tompicard
            tompicard  January 6, 2020

            >I don’t brush it[i.e Kingdom of God in Heaven] off,
            >I’d say.
            that is good , it is not like an either/or –
            KoG on Earth vs KoG in Heaven, as I see it they probably believed it as both

            >But after a lot of study about it, I decided
            >that [Kingdom of God in Heaven] is not what Paul
            >or Jesus was talking about.

            yes that is to be expected, according to Lord’s Prayer

            . . . God’s Will is [already being done] in Heaven . . .

            why would either of them need preach on that ?
            their mission, if that is what you want to call it, is to see God’s Will is also accomplished on earth,

            as well as of course that the audience of their ministries/sermons/exhortations is alive people earth,

  8. Telling
    Telling  December 28, 2019

    Your description of Paul’s life and ministry, I believe, amply shows Paul, not Jesus nor Jesus’ disciples, as the creator of the Church message of Salvation through the Crucifixion narrative, and I think also demonstrates that Paul was so overly wrapped up in Jewish scripture that he missed (to say the least) a genuine message.

  9. Avatar
    Phil  December 28, 2019

    There may be a small typo in the post –

    “For Paul, far less important than Jesus’ earthly life and teaching were his death and resurrection, which were God’s means of salvation to the world.”

    Did you mean “For Paul, far more important than….” ?

  10. Avatar
    Gdittmer  December 28, 2019

    Do you have any idea of what the Christian message would have looked like if Paul never converted, i.e. it was determined by the original apostles? Would there have been a doctrine of atonement?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      My sense is that the idea of atonement was around before Paul — it’s how the first dicsiples also made sense of Jesus’ death. What convinced Paul was the resurrection — but he didn’t make everything up from there. His predecessors were already working it out (which is why they were worshiping Jesus before Paul converted)

      • Avatar
        Fernando Peregrin Gutierrez  December 30, 2019

        Regarding the importance that Paul gives to the resurrection of Jersus. Questions without answers.
        __________________________________________
        1 Cor. 15: 3-5 (Paul’s proto-creed)
        “For aI delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”
        ————————————————– ——–
        In which OT passages does this idea of ​​the redemption of sins figure with the death of Jesus, the Son of God?

        Why doesn’t Paul say anything about the sources of that information? If it had been Peter in Jerusalem, he would have said it.
        If the atonement of our sins and the resurrection of Jesus is so important to Paul, why this silence on whose part and when did he receive that information of the first importance?
        ————————————————– ——-
        4 and that He was buried, and that He was araised on the third day baccording to the Scriptures,
        ————————————————– ———–
        Equally. I do not find these prophecies in the Hebrew Bible in a clear and irrefutable way. Only with a lot of imagination can certain verses be related to the burial and resurrection of Jesus, concrete and exactly on the third day
        ————————————————– —
        5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
        ————————————————– —–
        Paul’s mistake. Jesus could not appear to the Twelve because there were only Eleven apostles left.
        Compare this with Luke 24:
        > 33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the * Eleven * and those with them…”
        ———————————————-
        6 After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep;
        ______________________________
        Either he is a fortune teller or he has complete and up-to-date information, as he knows that some of the 500 have died.
        Or he invented it or he just tells a rumor that circulated among the Christians of Jerusalem.
        It is one of the least credible passages in the entire NT.
        __________________________________
        7 then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles;

        ___________________________________
        Repeat of 5, but this time without saying how many were the apostles.
        __________________________________
        8 and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.
        _______________________________
        Surely, another invention, another lie. If Jesus had really appeared to him, he would have given the importance due to that fact. But he points to this fact at the end of a series of post-mortem apparitions, as an appendix, perhaps to give a sense of his modesty as well as to claim his right to be considered an apostle more, on an equal footing with those who were always with Jesus

  11. Avatar
    AstaKask  December 28, 2019

    If you could get a letter from Paul with a clarification about a (relatively) demarcated area of NT studies, what would you ask him?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Wow. I’d have a thousand questions. Here’s one: Paul, what do you know about what Jesus said and did.

  12. Avatar
    doug  December 28, 2019

    This was an especially good post. It gave a good description of what it meant, for Paul, to believe in Jesus.

  13. Avatar
    Todd  December 28, 2019

    These are very good resumes of basic early Christian beliefs. You said that these are taken from your text books on the New Testament…is that correct? I would like to buy one. Specifically, which book (title) would I want to buy? Where can I find it (Amazon, etc)? Thank you in advance.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      I cover this material in my books, but no, this particular post was composed for the purpose. I’d suggest the most recent seventh edition of The New Testament: A Historical Introductoin to the Early Christian Writings. Yes, readily available on Amazon.

  14. Avatar
    Gary  December 28, 2019

    In the Book of Acts, James and the Twelve confront Paul that there are rumors that he has been telling JEWS that they do not need to be circumcised or eat kosher. James commands Paul to offer a sacrifice for sins in the Temple to prove this accusation is false. Is there any passage in the genuine Pauline epistles where Paul tells JEWS they do not need to follow the Law?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Nope, zero.

      • Avatar
        tteichma  December 29, 2019

        But it does seem that he thinks it would be right and proper for everyone to convert to be Jesus followers, followers of his message. Would you agree?

  15. Avatar
    thelad2  December 28, 2019

    Seasons Greetings, Bart. Wonder if you could address two questions on St. Paul?

    1) When Did Paul Die?: Most works I’ve read on the topic talk about “Paul’s execution” in Rome as if it were a fact. Many site with great confidence the year 64 CE as the year of Paul’s death. But on what historical grounds do we know that Paul was executed, let alone where? Like Peter, stories of Paul’s martyrdom come late in the game. Might it not be just as probable that he left Rome once he was sprung from jail, then traveled West, never to be heard from again?

    2) Did Peter and James Really Understand Paul?: Based on the information contained in his genuine letters, I’m assuming that Paul was a well educated Pharisee who spoke and wrote high level Greek (and Hebrew?). To my knowledge, he did not speak Aramaic. At the other end of the spectrum sat James, Peter and the rest of the apostles, a group of poorly educated, Jewish, Aramaic speaking laborers who knew, perhaps, some Hebrew and, maybe, some every day Greek. So, even on the off chance that Paul brought along an agile translator with him during his first trip to Jerusalem where he meets Peter and James, other than Gentiles not needing to convert to Judaism, just how much of Paul’s highly complex theology concerning the risen Christ would these unlettered, non-Greek speaking Jews have comprehended? Could it be that they understood very little at first, then became more alarmed as future missionaries dropped by Jerusalem to tell of Paul’s mystical, gentile-centered gospel? And as their understanding (and alarm) grew, could that help explain the reason they summoned Paul to explain himself and why Paul felt ambushed by hostile questioners as described in his letter to the Galatians?

    Appreciate your time and thoughts. And Happy New Year.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      1. Yes we don’t really know, but the earliest sources indicate he was martyred, and often tie it to Nero. So 64 is a pretty good guess, and lieu of a good opiton, I generally go with it; 2. I’m afraid we don’t really know I assume they used translators. But I also assume that some of his deepest thoughts were simply unfathomable to the uneducated, and even though Acts portrays them as sympatico, Paul doesn’t.

      • Telling
        Telling  December 29, 2019

        Bart,

        I figure that if Paul died of the common cold, the early church fathers would say he was martyred (barring distinct known evidence to the contrary).

        I understand also that Peter and others of the disciples were said to have been crucified, and yet there is no such evidence in scripture and only vague references otherwise.

        To have been martyred like their founder would be good for business, like Jesus being born in Bethlehem, not Nazareth.

        What is your opinion regarding the accuracy of the demise of Paul and Peter and the others? Do you find it curious that there is not more detail on Paul other than “martyred”, and more, that Acts ends abruptly with his 2 year imprisonment in Rome?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2019

          I don’t find it particularly curious, since we don’t have accounts of the deaths of any of Jesus’ closest followers. I think Acts ends where it does so that it will conclude on the triumphant note it has been sounding all along: nothing can stop Paul’s message from going out. Even when in prison in Rome, he is preaching and making converts. Ending with him being executed by his enemies would pretty much undercut Luke’s entire point.

          • Telling
            Telling  December 31, 2019

            All of what you say sounds reasonable, but after the fact, when everything is said and done, there must be an accounting of how Paul (and the others) died. Martyrdom is the obvious best choice and perhaps the only choice for a growing church founded upon the Master’s execution.

  16. Avatar
    Eskil  December 28, 2019

    How likely do you think that there could be link between Paul’s “road to Damascus” and Essenes’s “The Document Of The New Covenant In The Land Of Damascus”? I also noticed that there is an article claiming that the Greek word “Damascus” might contain Hebrew words for “blood” (dam) and for “cup” (chos) that could give interesting meanings to texts referencing “Damascus”? Could the “Damascus” in NT refer to something else than the city?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      There doesn’t appear to be any actual connection between the two. And no, the city is definitely in mind in the NT passages — the context usually shows that pretty clearly.

  17. Avatar
    DemandDroid  December 28, 2019

    Bart,

    I’m wondering if you could clear up what seems to be a contradiction involving what social class Paul comes from? One one hand, he is a highly literate man and composed the six authentic letters in Greek, indicating an eduction level only available to the very wealthy of the time. To this is added the fact that he “actively persecuted the Christians”, the phrasing of which seems to imply he was someone with authority and stature in the community able to direct some sort of general retribution against Christians somewhere, not just a single person involved in petty acts of vandalism or violence, etc..

    However, as you also state above, he also seen as an artisan, someone who made his living as a leather worker or tent-maker of some kind. Wouldn’t such a person in the ancient world be of a more middling class, with a much more rudimentary education? I’m basing this on arguments I’ve heard you use about levels of literacy in the ancient world. Could a leather worker have achieved the mastery of literary Greek necessary to compose Paul’s letters?

    Kind of related, do we think Paul was a native Aramaic speaker who learned Greek to write, or an urban Jew who natively spoke Greek?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Yes, he seems to have been of “mixed status,” highly educated but economically distressed and working as an artisan. We know of other people like that, especially philosophers, from his time. How he got the education is really difficult to know. His persecution was not necessarily based on authority and status; I’ve sometimes wondered if he wsa just dragging a Christian preacher out of a synagogue and beating him up.

      He almost certainly was raised and educted as a Greek speaker; I don’t think he had any Aramaic.

      • Avatar
        Phil  December 29, 2019

        When I was young I was told that all rabbis at that time learnt a trade as part of their overall training – it was a traditional aspect of being a Rabbi, and that is how Paul came to have a trade.
        Is there any truth in this?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2019

          Yes, pretty much. In part it was because there wasn’t an actual official “office” of “rabbi” — the term in that period simply meant “teacher” (of the Torah)

  18. Avatar
    Stephen  December 28, 2019

    Assuming that Matthew 10:23 is an authentic Jesus saying, doesn’t it imply that the historical Jesus had no intention of expanding his ministry to the gentiles? That’s not to say there would be no role for the gentiles in the Kingdom but if you expect the Son of man to appear before the message is delivered to all the towns of Israel there doesn’t seem enough time for a gentile (i.e., Pauline) ministry.

    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  December 29, 2019

      Yes, I’d say that’ probably the case.

      • Avatar
        HawksJ  December 30, 2019

        Along that same line, where/how/why did the new religion ‘about Jesus’ become – unlike most contemporary religions up to that point – a proselytizing one? That is, why did Paul and, presumably, others care whether others converted? Obviously, Jesus reportedly commanded them to do so, but do you think those ‘commissions’ really go back to Jesus?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 30, 2019

          Ah, it’s an extremely important, interesting, and vexed question. It made this religion unlike any other in the empire, and is what led to its taking over the roman world. I devote an entire discussion to it in my book The Triumph of Christianity. I’ll look to see if it’s short enough to extract on the blog. But no, I’m sure those statements were placed on Jesus’ lips only later, after the mission had begun.

  19. Telling
    Telling  December 29, 2019

    Bart,

    You say Acts was written after Paul’s death and the author is unknown. Yet the author of the gospel of Luke is universally believed to be also the author of Acts (as I understand).

    We don’t know for sure that Luke actually wrote Acts, but we do know that Acts mentions Luke as a traveling companion with Paul. And in areas where it appears the Luke joined Paul, Acts point-of-view changes from “he” to “we”, and then at points where it seems that Luke may have left Paul or stayed behind, point-of-view then reverts back from “we” to “he”. Some historians believe this is a good indication of when Luke was with Paul, when speaking of “we”. This happens several times and must be significant.

    Luke writing as “we” tells me that he is probably taking notes during their travels, or perhaps writing those segments of Acts while on the road, and then filling in the “he” blanks when speaking with Paul and others of his travelers. What is your opinion regarding the curious viewpoint changes, and might this indicate that Luke really is the author of both Gospel of Luke and Acts?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2019

      Actually, Acts never uses the name Luke. I’ve blogged about the “we” passages in Acts, to show why they probably are not referring to the author himself. Looks like I need to repost the posts!

      • Telling
        Telling  December 30, 2019

        Luke is mentioned in three of Paul’s letters, and I see him as the likely candidate for Luke/Acts authorship. He appears to be most focused in Ephesus region, the same general regions where “we” enters into Acts. Noteworthy too, I found sometimes more detail in the “we” areas, particularly the shipwreck which goes into considerable detail about the whole experience.

        Do you have any ideas regarding who “we” is in Acts, and to why the curious changes in point of view?

      • Telling
        Telling  December 30, 2019

        Hi Bart,

        I just searched your blog re the Acts “we” issue. On a quick read I did not find your arguments convincing. For example;

        Your argument regarding Colossians authenticity is a presumption founded upon a presumption. Some good historians (Timothy Luke Johnson, for one) make assumption that Colossians is an authentic Paul letter. I found that assuming Paul was beheaded in Rome on his first journey (the longstanding conventional wisdom), it is indeed difficult to place these “disputed” letters into a workable timeline. But it looks that a new generation of (at least a few) historians are breaking away from convention and are assuming Paul was let out of prison and continued traveling, Acts ending before this was to occur. I think this opens it up for these “disputed” letters to be reconsidered.

        I don’t find it convincing that minor theological differences between Paul and author of Acts, and between Paul’s undisputed and disputed letters, mean much of anything. People change their views over time for various reasons, or may be conflicted and say one thing for one audience and another thing for a different audience or in a different time.

        And as to who is to prove who is “we” (pardon the convolute phrase), it would seem to me that Luke is the starting point to be proved otherwise. If it was 100 years after when the name Luke was applied to Luke/Acts, this one point amounts to more evidence that Luke is the author than an alternative no evidence it was someone else. It is plausible that Irenaeus had peripheral information, including word of mouth, over what we have today. So, even a weak argument on Luke authorship should not be further weakened by having the name Luke attached to it, in my opinion.

        Thanks for your time, and I look forward to anything you may wish to say.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 2, 2020

          It’s all a matter of weighing probabilities. Building hypothesis upon hypothesis is what one does. That’s the only way to come up with the name “Luke” for the author of Acts. 1. He was a companion of Paul; 2. He was a gentile; 3. He was a doctor; 4. Paul wrote Colossians; 5. He mentions a gentile doctor named Luke there. 6. Therefore Luke wrote Acts. Lots going on there!

          • Telling
            Telling  January 2, 2020

            Thanks Bart.

            The only thing I might add is: who is otherwise the likely candidate?

            To compare with my earlier mention and your response for why Acts ends without telling of the death of Paul, we must consider also what is the more likely manner that Paul died, choices being: beheaded, died of a disease, or let out of prison and continued journeying. Seems to me any of the 3 choices is as feasible as the others.

            In regard to: “Who wrote Luke?” Suggesting that Luke didn’t write it begs a next question of: “Then who did?” Seems to me that if a particular name (a traveling companion) cannot be put forward then it becomes stronger that Luke wrote it than someone else.

            Would definitely be interested in your opinion.

          • Bart
            Bart  January 4, 2020

            The problem is that by the end of the first century were many thousands of Christians in the world at the time, and we have information on only, what, a dozen at most? Most writers are people we simply do not even have name for, let alone know anything about. So we are almost never able to attach a book to a name.

  20. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  December 29, 2019

    Paul talks about an “affliction”– does anyone have any idea at all of what this was? I’ve heard some say that he was homosexual, some that he suffered from epilepsy (in which case, as a perhaps temporal lobe epileptic, one would not be surprised by the vision/visions and the “graphomania”– the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick for instance might have been a temporal lobe epileptic, having had a vision that influenced his life and writing from then on. Dick wrote an enormous amount about his vision. Some similarities to Paul on that score.) Or maybe it was scrofula. Or an inordinate sex drive, with which he would probably have struggled. And on and on. It would be nice to know what this affliction was.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 30, 2019

      Yup, it would be very nice indeed. And unfortunately, he gives us no clue. (Doestoevsky was another famous epileptic who had visions)

    • Telling
      Telling  December 31, 2019

      The term is used in a number of places and in my opinion is indicative of the oppressions people of the faith will suffer. Such as:

      “Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short while.” -Hebrews Chapter 11

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