Paul on Jesus

One of the most interesting features of the NT is that Paul, the earliest Christian source we have, seems to know almost nothing about Jesus the man. He is completely obsessed by his death and resurrection, of course, and regularly talks about how Jesus has appeared to him. But we get no details about his life. This is particularly interesting given the way that non-evangelical Christians often stress the teachings and the actions of Jesus as being the foundation of their faith.

Mosaic of St Paul

The central roundel from the mosaic of St Paul in the archepiscopal oratory of St. Andrew in Ravenna, Italy.

So here’s the low down. Paul seems to know a few basic facts about Jesus, such as that he was Jewish, and he wasn’t rich. He also seems to know about the 12 disciples, and the fact that Jesus has brothers (all of which he reveals because he was struggling against their authority, and trying to claim his own). The author of Acts has Paul quote Jesus once: “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), but if this quote is of Jesus (let alone if the author is correct in giving it to Paul), then it isn’t recorded elsewhere – it isn’t in the gospels. Another similar quote appears in 2 Cor 12:8-9 where Paul quotes something that we don’t have another record of Jesus saying: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” – in this case a phrase which sounds unlike the Jesus presented in the gospels.

Then there are two teachings of Jesus that Paul seems to be aware of: Jesus’s prohibition on divorce, which appears in Mark 10:2-10 (and its parallels in Matt 19:3-12 and in abbreviated form in Luke 16:18). Paul seems to reference this in 1 Cor 7:10-11 where he says “I give this command (not I, but the Lord)…”. But even then he goes on to contradict Jesus, by saying that if an unbeliever leaves a believer, the believer isn’t bound to them any longer.

The second teaching is more vague. Paul suggests that it is okay for someone to be paid for their ministry. For example, in 1 Cor 9:14 (“The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from it.”). Which may or may not reflect Jesus’s teaching in Luke 10:7 “The worker deserves his wages” (talking about the disciples’ evangelical efforts) and its possible parallel in Matt 10:10.

Which leaves us with only one unambiguous reference to the life and teachings of Jesus: the reference in 1 Cor 11:23-25 to the last supper. This is directly parallel to Matt 26:26-29, Mark 24:22-25 and Luke 22:19-20. In fact it is more parallel than that. It is almost word for word with the version in Luke. Which suggests that Paul (despite his insiting that the teaching came directly from Jesus, not through other people) might be finding that information in a literary source. Whatever the merits of that hypothesis, it doesn’t affect the general point – it is the only clear reference to something Jesus did or said during his ministry.

So, in summary

1 Cor 11:23-25 — The bread and wine, the only obvious parallel.

1 Cor 9:14 — Evangelists should receive material support for their work. A loose correspondence.

1 Cor 7:10-11 — Paul may be referring to Jesus’s teaching on divorce, but goes on to disagree.

2 Cor 12:8-9 — Paul quotes Jesus, but it doesn’t sound like Jesus, and the quote isn’t elsewhere.

Acs 20:35 — Luke quotes Paul quoting Jesus, but again we don’t have the quote elsewhere.

Gal 2:9 — Paul knows about the disciples Peter, John and James, and that (Gal 1:19) James was Jesus’s brother.

Gal 4:4 — Paul knows that Jesus is born of a woman under the law (i.e. was a Jew).

1 Cor 15:5 — Paul knows the ‘twelve’, but he doesn’t make it explicit if he associates them with Jesus’s disciples.

This lack of discussion in Paul has been often remarked upon. It just genuinely seems that Paul wasn’t interested in Jesus’s life or teaching, his miracles or his admonitions. Rather Paul focusses entirely on the Jesus he claims to know – the risen Christ. Some scholars have insisted that this isn’t a problem, for example Dunn says “Nevertheless, in letters not intended to provide biographical details, the number of allusions is probably enough to confirm both Paul’s knowledge of and interest in Jesus prior to his death and resurrection.” Jesus Remembered. Eerdmans, 2003. p 143. Which just seems ostrich-like denial to me.

The incarnation was a unique event in history where God spent time living among and teaching his creation, but Paul is content to never draw on that teaching or life? I say that’s odd.

So how do we resolve this? Well some have suggested this is evidence that Paul invented Jesus and he was a mythical figure who never really existed. But this doesn’t account for the fact that one of the few things Paul does say is that Jesus had brothers, of whom he names James and claims to have interacted with him. So that doesn’t wash for me.

I think it is most likely that Paul piggybacks onto the nascent Jesus movement. He takes some of the teachings that are circulating (such as the teaching about Jesus having been resurrected after his death, and the passover meal before it), and after a significant spiritual event (the Damascus road incident, but be aware that we only get that information from Acts, Paul is far far more conservative about what happened), he effectively deposits onto that movement his own spiritual innovation. He isn’t interested in Jesus’s teachings because he is only interested in himself and his own spiritual understanding and quest. It isn’t just Jesus, Paul never talks about anyone else’s teachings as significant, mentioning other teachers only when they explicitly teach the same thing as him, or when he’s in opposition to them.

This is my surmise, my hypothesis. I don’t claim we can evidence this in detail, but it seems to fit both what we know of Paul’s writings and what we know of the chronology of the first century spread in Christianity. If this is the case then it is true, as has been often remarked, that the world’s largest religion owes more to Paul than Jesus.


Filed under Uncategorized

30 responses to “Paul on Jesus

  1. atimetorend

    Re: the denials such as Dunn’s that Paul knew about Jesus but that was not the focus of his letter…
    I have always found that line of thought to be logically adequate, that Paul and his audience didn’t need to reference the details, but also highly improbable. It seems quite likely in that case that details of Jesus’ life would take a back seat to the doctrinal issues and squabbles in Paul’s churches, but it does not seem likely at all that there would be a near *complete* absence of details, such as you document.

    One aspect you did not touch on is attribution of authorship of Paul’s letters. I didn’t look up which of the epistles you referenced are or are not generally attributed to him. Which might then say more about the direction of the early Christian communities than Paul’s knowledge or lack thereof of Jesus’ life.

    He isn’t interested in Jesus’s teachings because he is only interested in himself and his own spiritual understanding and quest.
    [Paul] effectively deposits onto that movement his own spiritual innovation.

    I always thought that Paul just was not aware of those teachings, that they were either not widely circulated at the time Paul was writing, or had not been invented yet and evolved later. It is a very interesting twist you introduce, that Paul just wasn’t interested in them. And another interesting twist, which I do not disagree with, is that Paul was not interested in them because he does not see anyone else’s teachings to be significant. It sounds very ego-centric (which regardless I think is a hallmark of Paul’s writing).

    It is interesting that the gospels, written after Paul’s letters, are so nearly devoid of Paul’s theology. That seems to support the idea that Paul was making up his own material. Just like it is odd that Paul does not mention Jesus’ teachings, it seems odd Jesus little mentions Paul’s teachings. Odd at least if they were both speaking directly on God’s behalf…

  2. Ian

    Just like it is odd that Paul does not mention Jesus’ teachings, it seems odd Jesus little mentions Paul’s teachings.

    What a great thought! Yes. Have to think about that, but it does seem interesting. Though we do get some Pauline elements in acts (though a rather different Paul than Paul’s letters even then).

    I always thought that Paul just was not aware of those teachings,

    At that point in the essay I was referring to the teachings such as the resurrection, that Paul uses as a jumping off point.

  3. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul warns his readers that someone was circulating a letter attributed to Paul that Paul had not in fact written. In fact, some scholars think that 2 Thessalonians is itself such a letter. The point is that teachings were falsely attributed to Paul and Paul (or someone else) was compelled to address that problem.

    If it were believed in Paul’s time that Jesus was a recently deceased authoritative teacher, I have to believe that some of the false teachers that Paul opposed in his letters would have claimed that Jesus had said or done things in his life that supported their position against Paul. I also have to believe that Paul would have been compelled to address questions about what Jesus really said or did and what those things meant . If Paul and his followers believed that the apostles in Jerusalem had received teachings directly from Jesus during his earthly ministry, I don’t see how Paul could have dismissed their authority as casually as he does in Galatians.

  4. I think Saul’s name change is also interesting. As a Roman citizen he would have had a roman name from birth, which can’t really have been anything than Paulus. The same surname as Sergius; after the visit to Crete we see the name shift in Acts. Despite the Barnabas connection, and given the fact that Tarsus was a major port for Crete, is it pushing it too much to suggest a close family connection? Uncle Sergius?

    I’m also very sceptical of Saul’s supposed Jewish orthodoxy…

  5. Ian

    Vinny, Thanks for commenting, and welcome to the blog! I enjoyed reading through your blog the other day.

    I do agree with most of your comment, although you seem to be nodding at a therefore “therefore Jesus wasn’t an earthly spiritual teacher” that I don’t buy.

    Our earliest gospel, Mark, is interesting because in it, Jesus is constantly not understood by his disciples. It gets embarrassing by the end. They are portrayed as missing the point of every teaching. I wonder if that feeds into it.

    If Paul and his followers believed that the apostles in Jerusalem had received teachings directly from Jesus during his earthly ministry, I don’t see how Paul could have dismissed their authority as casually as he does in Galatians.

    I do. I read Paul as supremely insecure on this point. He is (I think we can infer) dogged by accusations that he isn’t a real apostle. His entire shtick depends on diminishing their authority, doesn’t it? I don’t think Gal 1-2 dismisses their authority casually at all, it feels to me like a tortuous process, wherein he definitely protests too much. I hadn’t really thought in these terms before, but if that is the case, then for Paul to admit that Jesus’s teachings were important, would be to admit the primacy of the twelve’s experience of Jesus over his. And he is clearly not willing to do that. He claims he is the recipient of the final revelation of the risen Jesus, and that gives him authority to ‘opposite Peter to his face’.

  6. Ian

    You lost me with the Sergius bit, Shane. I assume you’re referring to the Chytri inscription, but I don’t know what that feeds into this discussion. (For the record, I am highly skeptical of the early missionary journey timeline implied by that – since I don’t trust Acts as far as I can throw it, and Paul’s description of his early ministry in Gal is focussed on the south).

  7. Hi Ian,
    No – I’m not referring directly to the Chytri inscriptions; it’s a simpler point – in Acts we get this story about Saul and Barnabas being summoned to see Sergius Paulus – governor of Cyprus (what did I say *Crete* for? Major duh!). It’s from that point onwards that we get the name “Paul”. I agree with you that Acts is is not worth a ball of blue in terms of historical accuracy, but this is an interesting little feature. I conjecture that Sergius Paulus was indeed closely related to Paul, and his association with all sorts of religious weirdos puts the whole business into a new perspective.

  8. Ian,

    That strikes me as the most plausible explanation for why Paul doesn’t say anything about Jesus’ earthly ministry in his letters. Nevertheless, having a plausible explanation for Paul’s silence may give us a reason not to infer his ignorance, but it doesn’t give us an affirmative basis to infer his knowledge. I think we still have a hard time justifying the conclusion that Paul knew about Jesus having a teaching and healing ministry when he doesn’t say anything to indicate that he did, particularly when other early writings like Hebrews, James, the pseudo Pauline letters, and the Johannine letters don’t seem to reflect it either.

    If Paul’s Jesus was more or less mythological then Mark might have invented stories to historicize him or he might have fused Paul’s theology with some actual historical itinerant teacher. In either case, Mark’s readers would have wondered why they are first learning about the historicity of Paul’s Jesus. The fact that nobody understood Jesus and the women ran away without telling anyone about the empty tomb would help to explain why all these stories hadn’t been part of the message from the beginning.

  9. Ian

    Yes, I’m familiar with the line of reasoning. It just doesn’t seem at all convincing to me. It seems far more likely that the ‘twelve’ and the Jerusalem church was based on a movement started by an itinerant Galileean preacher who’d made a stupid political move and got himself crucified. That group then developed the notion of the resurrection of this figure. Paul (and others, then and later) takes and mythologizes this figure into the various Christs we see in the NT and early Christian writings.

    How do you address the issue that one of the only things Paul did know about Jesus’s earthly life is his family. And particularly his brother James. I know there are different ways to argue around this, but if you’re going to put weight on Paul’s lack of information, it seems odd to me to de-emphasize the information he does give.

    Hebrews, James, the pseudo Pauline letters, and the Johannine letters don’t seem to reflect it either.

    There are all later though. Very few scholars would argue that they pre-date the gospels (Hebrews maaaaybe, but most still put it later). The issue of not reflecting Jesus’s life is not limited to the earliest works of the NT. It is common in everything except the gospels, and continues as a pattern in early non-canonical epistles too.

  10. Hi Ian,
    I agree entirely with your points there (and I’m not really young, hot, nor Russian). Here’s a question – if Mark was written later than Saul Paulus’s peculiar brainfarts, and presumably from a Pauline perspective, why then *do* we get this historical picture, largely devoid of Pauline theology? I can understand Mark being a novella of sorts to try to ground a historical Jesus, but if we’re to assume that it has arisen from a milieu where “It’s the Resurrection, Stupid”, then I think we have a bit of a problem. Call me a hopeless old romantic, but I like to think that Mark contains some “true” historical information about Jesus, but even then, one has to wonder why it was written, and by whom (if not Mark), and how it achieved its authoritative status, such that it was plagiarised by the authors of Matthew and Luke. Is Mark from a Pauline tradition, a Johannine (hardly), a Jacobian or a Peterian? What’s the Ianian perspective? 😉

  11. Ian

    Yes, Mark is clearly written from the perspective of a risen Jesus. But he doesn’t describe the resurrection at all. In fact he leaves it either bleakly, or mid-thought, depending on your view.
    But I don’t detect Paul’s preoccupations in it no. I’m inclined to think Mark is largely independent of Paul. He either didn’t know Paul, or wasn’t in one of Paul’s pet churches. And I suspect Mark kicks off the biography of Jesus genre and sets some of its rules that the others then follow.

    I also think that some of the information in Mark is likely to be correct. Not in specifics particularly, and often in silhouette.

    I read Mark through again last night, and there is just this really dense sense that Mark is trying to join dots. To reconcile something that he wants you to believe with what people already know. In particular the whole messianic secret thing, but also in the way he treats the Jesus story around places where Jesus grew up, his relationship to his family, the circumstances leading up to the crucifixion, and so on. I really get the sense that he’s writing against the backdrop of a critique of people who knew this guy’s teaching, or had other access to stories about him. And they didn’t include even Mark’s modest Christology (modest compared to the others, particularly John). That’s just about impossible to prove, of course.

    I detect in the whole of the NT, but particularly the gospels, a constant rhetorical quest to justify a relatively nondescript human against the wild Christological claims made for him. I can almost hear the voices off: “if he were the messiah, why did he come from Galilee”, “he was illegitimate, how can a prophet come from that kind of birth?”, “why didn’t he say he was the messiah”, “I know someone from Nazereth, and they never saw him work any miracles”, “if he had thousands of followers, how did they eat?”. And so on, and so on.

  12. In almost every instance where Paul uses the term “brother” it is clear that he is referring to a spiritual relationship rather than a biological one and he refers to James as “the brother of the Lord” rather than “the brother of Jesus.” He may have thought of James as being biologically related to Jesus, but I don’t think that the context gives us much reason to decisively prefer that reading.

    I don’t think that any of the theories, whether they be mythicist or historicist, successfully tie up all the loose ends. I think Wells’ idea that the Jesus of the gospels and Paul’s Christ were actually the product of two separate traditions that eventually fused makes as much sense of the data as any.

  13. One thing I wonder about is how closely Paul’s understanding of Jesus actually corresponded to what was believed by those who came before him. His first knowledge of Jesus would have come from the believers that he was persecuting. Some of these people might have given him accurate information, but isn’t it likely that some people would have told him anything that might have gotten him off of their backs? Some people might have tried to divert suspicion from themselves by inventing crazy stories about what someone else believed. I don’t think that we can have a lot of confidence that Paul was getting accurate information.

    I also think that there could have been more than one heretical Messianic sect floating around that offended Paul’s sensibilities. It may be that some of the people he was persecuting were followers of someone other than the Galilean. Paul might simply have lumped a number of different sects together as heretical without investigating the nuances of each group’s beliefs. The upshot of this speculation is that when Paul had his revelation and worked out its meaning, he might have included a lot of ideas that had little to do with the historical person from Nazareth.

    Christian apologists like to portray Paul’s first visit with Peter and James as a fact finding mission, but if they were in fact the uneducated peasants described in the gospels, I can imagine that it was Paul who explained Jesus to them rather than the other way around. Paul was a dynamic educated man with a reputation for intolerance towards those who disagreed with him and he may have already enjoyed considerable success in spreading his gospel. If Paul’s message didn’t sound all that much like what they remembered Jesus saying, Peter and James might have been happy to adapt their understanding of Jesus to his.

  14. John Clavin

    I don’t think anyone can really know anything about the historical Jesus or the early christians except to try and correlate the old stories with modern day human events. Human nature was the same back then as it is today.

  15. Ian

    Some of these people might have given him accurate information, but isn’t it likely that some people would have told him anything that might have gotten him off of their backs

    But Paul doesn’t talk about Jesus, that’s the point, isn’t it?

    In almost every instance where Paul uses the term “brother” it is clear that he is referring to a spiritual relationship rather than a biological one and he refers to James as “the brother of the Lord” rather than “the brother of Jesus.

    It is true that brother is used both metaphorically and literally (and still is). But not in that genitive construction. You’re really going out into linguistic wilderlands if you want to suggest that form is metaphoric. Ultimately it is those kinds of argument that get mythicism a bad name among scholars.

    The upshot of this speculation is that when Paul had his revelation and worked out its meaning, he might have included a lot of ideas that had little to do with the historical person from Nazareth.

    Oh, I think that is incontrovertible. Clearly the overwhelming thrust of Paul’s revelation has nothing at all to do with the man from Galilee. As was the point of this post really. That Paul’s Christ is ahistorical is in very little doubt among all but the most ideologically compromised scholars I’ve met. That isn’t the claim that I’m disputing. It is that there was no historical person from Nazereth around which the mythology coalesced. “Mythicism” isn’t usually directed against Paul, it is directed against the gospels. And as we’ve been rehearsing the reasons for very strongly, it is highly unlikely that Paul is the source of the contents of the gospel.

    Certainly in the years from Paul to Mark, it seems obvious to me that there were two strands of Jesus/Christ teaching – sayings and life teaching, and post-death Christology. Paul either didn’t know or didn’t have any time for the former. How much and at what stage they came together, I don’t know. But certainly by John’s gospel 30-40 years later, they are highly unified.

    Christian apologists like to portray Paul’s first visit with Peter and James as a fact finding mission

    Paul himself certainly doesn’t see it that way. In fact he is very explicit in the fact that he learned nothing of import from them. Once again because that would compromise his authority as a direct recipient of revelation. I suspect that Paul is learning about Jesus from the early Jesus movement, but definitely not in a systematic discipleship kind of way. He’s far too arrogant for that. IMO.

  16. Ian

    John – We certainly can’t know anything with certainty, no. But I do think it is possible to make some progress. Not indisputable progress, and not very far progress, but you have to be very dismissive or dogmatically motivated, I think, to not accept some things.

    And you’ve said before about how modern moires can cast light on the early Jesus movement. I think there’s something to be said for that, and is a kind of implicit test in lots of early Christianity research (you get phrases often used such as “the disciples wouldn’t have done X if Y was true, but they did X, so Y is false” – relying on the fact that it is our modern understanding of human nature that makes use think they wouldn’t have). But it would be interesting to see that made more explicit, I think.

  17. It is true that brother is used both metaphorically and literally (and still is). But not in that genitive construction. You’re really going out into linguistic wilderlands if you want to suggest that form is metaphoric.

    I would be interested in seeing greater development of this point, because I have read plenty of criticisms of mythicism, but I have not seen it previously argued that “brother of the lord” is that much of a slam dunk for historicists.

  18. Ian

    I don’t think there’s any slam dunk, either way. Nor could there be, given the massive uncertainties.

    From my pov it is perfectly possible that Jesus was a wholly invented myth. It is just the constant drip drip of evidence that convinces me that the myth adhered uncomfortably to a very believable, unremarkable man. Its just a cumulative thing. Either way there are lose ends. The historical Jesus idea has the hard task of unpacking a lot of the process (what threads are historical, where do the other threads come from, who merged them and when, how were the contradictions dealt with, etc), which the mythicist position doesn’t (it was just made up, could have been anyone making it up at any time, no real need to worry about how or why).

    My comment about disrepute is simply this: it is wise in anything not to argue away lose ends with a cursory gesture to another field which has its own deep scholarship. Making a facile linguistic argument isn’t helpful. If there is a *real* linguistic argument to be had (and on this score there may well be), then it needs to be made, in detail, within the realms of that field. So I could imagine a good paper on the metaphoric uses of “αδελφο(ν/ς) τοῦ +gen” in the Koine corpus. But until that work is done, a glib reference to αδελφοί being metaphoric is just that. It is an argument style that is finely honed in theology generally. But no less disreputable for it, at least to me.

    At root, I think the consensus position is essentially a super-set of the mythicist. The consensus is not that the Jesus of the NT is historical, but that portions of the NT account relate to a historical figure.

    As, in fact, is your slightly nuanced approach, where you identify a historical thread and a mythical thread. That is basically the consensus view, but maybe you want to have a smaller historical thread than most. Fine. As I’ve said before the argument over mythicism is either ideological (as it tends to be on many blogs): an argument motivated by a desire to ‘disprove’ Christianity, that focuses on whether scholars are doing early Christian history right (an argument, frankly, I think derisable). Or it is about the size of the sources behind the early Jesus movement. As long as we stay on the latter, I think there’s fruitful discussions to be had about size, among people with a whole range of opinions. I tend to be more minimal on that scale than many scholars, but less so than a few.

  19. Ian

    So I could imagine a good paper on the metaphoric uses of “αδελφο(ν/ς) τοῦ +gen” in the Koine corpus.

    Actually, I can imagine this paper being celebrated and used by Catholic apologists. Because family-of-Jesus passages are also deeply problematic for a doctrine of perpetual virginity. It is certainly the case that the facile (and disreputable) dismissal of brotherhood is often used to shore up that.

  20. John Clavin

    Why is it that there is no writing from anyone living at the time Jesus was alive? Was the technology not there yet? Was there some technological advancement in writing around 100 AD that gave more people the ability to become writers?

    If this is the case, maybe the Jesus story was a result of the sudden proliferation of writers. Much like today, they probably had journalists, non-fiction, fiction, and science fiction/fantasy writers. Maybe Jesus was like a Harry Potter.

  21. Ian

    Good question. One thought is that Jesus was a peasant, and his disciples were peasants. They most likely couldn’t write greek. It wasn’t until the next generation of Jesus followers (educated folks like Paul) that we could get the literary legacy. Prior to that it might have been oral tradition.

    But that doesn’t explain why nobody else every wrote anything about him. So another option is that Jesus simply wasn’t important enough during his life to be mentioned. It is only after his death and the Christ-mythology building up around him that he becomes significant.

    “Maybe Jesus was like a Harry Potter.”

    I think there’s probably some truth in that. Who knows why Jesus, as opposed to every other itinerant preacher, suddenly gave rise to this whole movement. Was he more charismatic? Was it just a fluke? Did he bring the right message at the right time? We can’t really know, but lots of ink has been spilt on the options.

    And, of course, though my thoughts on this are probably obvious on this: another option would be that he genuinely was God, and therefore it is obvious why he’s special.

  22. O Smith

    I am not a blogger or chat room person. I don’t even Know what term to use.
    But what I do know is that, if the preservation of truth were left in the hands of the people dialoging on this site, it (the truth) would have been lost centuries ago. Jesus said, “you search the scripture for in them you think
    you have eternal life and they (the scripture) testify of me, yet you won’t come to me that you may have life”. Paul is in full harmony with Jesus
    when he says that; “the natural man cannot perceive the things of the spirit
    for they are foolishness to them, neither can they know them because they are spiritually discerned… but we have the mind of Christ”. This is why Paul
    prayed for us that we might “have a spirit of wisdom an revelation in the full knowledge of Him (Jesus Christ)”.
    Paul dose not need to quote Jesus verbatim to convey the liberating truth
    of Jesus’ teaching. When Paul said “let this mind be in you which was also Christ Jesus who being in the form of God… and being found in the fashon
    of a man…” , he was fulfilling the word of Jesus when In John 17:20 that men “would believe on me through their word”. If you believe the scripture is inspired or God breathed according to Peter, and if you yourself have received the breath of God then maybe you will be able from that premise to understand Paul. Paul confirmed what Jesus taught. Example: Satan tempts Jesus as the Son of God, but the Lords reply was MAN shall not
    live by bread alone. After the Lords resurrection for 40 days he taught his
    disciples concerning the kingdom by appearing to them at the tomb, on the road to Emeaus, at the sea shore, and in the upper room; on all of these occasions Christ was not recognized as the person who had lived with them for three and half years. Paul in 2Cor.5:16 is trying, as did Christ, to teach us not to know any man, even Christ, according to the flesh (our natural abilities) but according to spirit (mans spirit as well as the Spirit of Christ).
    Paul did not veer in the least bit from the teachings of Christ who said his disciples would do even even greater work than Himself. Based on how some on this site interpret scripture, Paul would not fall into the number
    of those called disciples. Jesus would say: “you strain out a gnat an swallow a camel.”
    If you could understand Paul’s word to the Colossians “I struggle laboring to fill-up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake which is the church,” then you would appreciate Paul was not saying something different but something more something of the “greater work” which Christ spoke of. Paul could add nothing to the redemptive work
    of Christ, (it is finished) but in terms of the church, His body being built, the work continues.
    I don’t understand how a christian can believe some of the bible and then scrutinize that which they don’t understand. If you believe, according to Hebrews, that “by the word the heavens were created, and by the same
    word they are kept in store until this day” how can you not believe that
    the Lord is able to keep the scripture, His revelation to man, intact?
    I will stop by saying that we should pray as did Paul, that the Lord would
    grant to us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of Him, that the eyes of our understanding would be enlightened…

    O Smith

  23. Ian

    Hi, O, thanks for swinging by. And particularly thanks for taking time to compose your comment. I sincerely appreciate the effort that went in to it.

    So there’s lots in your comment I’d like to discuss, and there’s lots of things I think you misunderstand about me and what I’m saying here. But I’m not sure that would be useful. Let me know if you’d like to make it more of a conversation. I’m always happy to have views shared and discussed.

    I think the fundamental issue is pretty clear, though. At some point you’ve been taught that the bible is something that it isn’t. It is somehow a miraculous document, or one that was dictated by God, or something of the kind. That in it is some deeper and fundamental truth about the universe.

    All these things are not uncommon beliefs, but they are wrong.

    Then the real question is, have you any capacity for finding out why and how they are wrong?

    I once believed what you say too, by the way. Here’s a post on my faith, and its relationship to yours.

    Of course all this is irrelevant to most Christians in your position. Because you won’t believe it. You can’t believe it. You have to believe I was never a real Christian, or that I hate God, or that I want to life a sinful life, or something, anything. It really doesn’t matter what: you probably won’t stick around long enough to find out which option. You just know it is one, I have to be lying. Otherwise, well, the things you’ve been told to believe for years might be challenged, maybe even your faith would be challenged. And that is most definitely not allowed.

    In my experience, almost all evangelical Christians listen to folks like me but never hear. We’ve had plenty on the blog in the last couple of years. Fond of telling me what I believe, but not actually listening. They don’t need to listen, because they’ve already decided (actually they’ve normally been taught by pastors and other Christians over many years) what I believe and have believed, and why. Are you the same? I don’t know. I hope not, but fear so.

    Do you actually want to know some of the answers to your questions? Or are you so sure that you have the absolute final correct answer, that you already know anything I say must be wrong? I assume you listen to your pastor, or learn things from Christian books. So I assume you do listen and learn. But do you have any capacity to think someone who is an atheist might know stuff? Or does the lack of a current belief in God mean that anything they claim to know is plain wrong? I don’t you, I don’t know what quality of person you have. Whether you can patiently engage with opinions you don’t share, or whether you immediately discount them entirely.

    I appreciate your comment. I’d appreciate even more your participation in the conversation. Up to you if you want that.

    And don’t worry about the ‘right’ way to do these comments, or what to call yourself, etc. We’re just two people having a conversation. Make your own rules up as you go!

  24. O Smith

    Thanks for your response. I consider myself to be a very open minded person. I don’t, as a rule, simply take the word of anyone as fact. Though I do, as the scripture encourages, study to show myself approved unto God a workman that need not be ashamed rightly dividing or cutting straight the word of God. I stumbled upon you site while looking into the study of oral histories and the tradents, literate tradents, which many of the new testament writers were, who passed down what some refer to as the Jesus tradition. I didn’t know until the post “on my faith” that this site was atheistic in nature? Please correct any assumption. My question to you Ian is: why spend so much time and energy trying to debunk something that has shaped our culture (music, art, literature, education, social justice etc) . These superstitions as you might refer to them, (again forgive any assumption) the belief in some higher power are seen in just about every culture. What is your intent? How dose your new found wisdom assist in the betterment of the human condition?
    O Smith

  25. Ian


    Thanks for the response. I’m glad when I get a response like that, and my worst fears about the kind of person I’m talking with are dispelled. It is a relief.

    “My question to you Ian is: why spend so much time and energy trying to debunk something that has shaped our culture”

    The site is a place for me to discuss the bible and religion with others. Primarily because it is interesting. I have an undergrad degree in theology, and I’ve been studying the bible and early church history for 20 years now. I do that because I find it fascinating. I think once you get beyond a certain point of expertise: in biblical scholarship, in ten-pin bowling, in knitting – it can become quite consuming as you continue to strive to get better and find out more. For me this is my hobby (I’m not, and have never been a professional scholar or pastor, though I have been a professional Christian youth worker).

    The post I referred you to was written late in this blog’s history because of folks who stopped by and assumed I was an atheist because I didn’t know God and had never accepted Jesus Christ as my personal saviour, that I’d never know baptist by water or by the Holy Spirit, etc. I wanted to point out that wasn’t true, and that, I felt having come through that process, and then seen it for what it is, I had a broader perspective than most of them.

    “How dose your new found wisdom assist in the betterment of the human condition?”

    Again, not really the point of this blog, but I’m happy to answer.

    I hope you don’t mind, but because my response won’t be a one-liner, I’ll put it as its own post, as I’ve not really said in here before, and others might be interested or want to comment. It is here:

  26. Real soldier for Christ

    Paul was never a follower of christ nor did ever teach anything that christ taught as a matter of fact quite the contrary- here is a list of scriptures you can read for yourself right out of the king james version of the bible.
    . On the source of the Truth and the true gospel:

    Paul says:
    [13] And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.
    [12] For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus says:
    [14] I have given them thy word;
    [17] Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.

    2. On the sum of the commandments:

    Paul says:
    [9] The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

    Jesus says:
    [37] And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
    [38] This is the great and first commandment.
    [39] And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
    [40] On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

    3. On forgiveness of trespasses:

    Paul says:
    [7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
    [25] who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

    Jesus says:
    [14] For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you;
    [15] but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

    4. On being justified:

    Paul says:
    [24] they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,
    [28] For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law.
    [9] Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

    Jesus says:
    [37] for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

    5. On what is honorable among men:

    Paul says:
    [21] for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of men.
    [17] Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all men.
    [18] he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.
    [33] just as I try to please all men in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

    Jesus says:
    [15] But he said to them, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
    [26] Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

    6. On the commandments and eternal life:

    Paul says:
    [9] I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died;
    [10] the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me.

    Jesus says:
    [17] And he said to him, Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.

    7. . On your father:

    Paul says:
    [15] For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
    [10] I appeal to you for my child, Ones’imus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment.

    Jesus says:
    [9] And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.

    8. On qualifying for eternal life:

    Paul says:
    [21] so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Jesus says:
    [24] Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

    9. On the destiny of the Law and the Prophets:

    Paul says:
    [4] For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.

    Jesus says:
    [17] Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.
    [18] For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

    10. On the number and identity of teachers:

    Paul says:
    [28] And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third, teachers,
    [11] And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
    [7] For this I was appointed a preacher and apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
    [11] For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,
    Jesus says:
    [8] But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren.
    11. On the number to be saved:
    Paul says:
    [25] Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in,
    [26] and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.

    Jesus says:
    [13] Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
    [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    . On the number to be saved:
    Paul says:
    [25] Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in,
    [26] and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.

    Jesus says:
    [13] Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
    [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
    13. . On the number and identity of pastors (shepherds):

    Paul says:
    [11] And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors (shepherds) and teachers,

    Jesus says:
    [16] And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.

    On the number and identity of leaders:

    Paul says:
    [15] For though you have countless leaders in Christ . . ..

    Jesus says:
    [10] Neither be called leaders, for you have one leader, the Christ.

    15. On total depravity:

    Paul says:
    [9] What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin,
    [10] as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
    [22] For there is no distinction;
    [23] since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, . . ..

    Jesus says:
    [35] The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
    [45] The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
    [35] that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

    16. On unconditional election:

    Paul says:
    [16] So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy.

    Jesus says:
    [21] Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
    [22] On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.

    17. On sacrifices to God:

    Paul says:
    [7] For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.
    [2] And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

    Jesus says:
    [13] Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’
    18. On payment for preaching the gospel:

    Paul says:
    [17] Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching;
    [18] for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.
    [11] If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?
    [12] If others share this rightful claim upon you, do not we still more?

    Jesus says:
    [7] And preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
    [8] Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying, give without pay.

  27. Ian

    Well an extensive copy and paste there, and I appreciate you taking the time to comment here, but I’m afraid I’ve no idea what point you’re actually trying to make with it. Maybe you’d like to say what you have to say without 1600 words of quotations?

  28. Grizel

    *sigh* I got all excited there was a new post from you (Ian) and I was going “Great! The review of Carrier’s book!” Then I get here and find…well, someone arguing something about Paul and who a real soldier is or …something.

    Oh well. Back to waiting. No pressure. 🙂

  29. Ian

    Grizel – the post is done now. Check it out. I suspect you might be subscribed to comments, rather than posts, so I added this just in case.

  30. Who appointed Paul an apostle, when, where, who said that?
    No one. Never. Just “Paul said so.”…..

    “What is an Apostle?”
    Here is the answer based on the original sources:
    The words and actions of Jesus and the Original Apostles in the text of the New Testament.

    .1) Gospel of Mark – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him…” [Mark 3:13-14]

    Three chapters later,
    “Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.” [Mark 6:6-7]

    .2) Gospel of Luke – time lag between being appointed and being sent
    “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon…..” [Luke 6:12-14]

    Again three chapters later,
    “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” [Luke 9:1-2]

    .3) Gospel of Matthew – which is organized by theme, not necessarily in chronological order.
    “He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon…” [Matthew 10:1]

    Without any clear time reference, continuing on the theme of the Apostles, Matthew does record “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…” [Matthew 10:5] Matthew never said that the Apostles were “sent out” immediately after being appointed. If we didn’t also have the clear records in Mark and Luke, it would be a fairly logical assumption that Jesus sent them out right away, but it would still be just an assumption. In this case, that assumption would clearly be wrong. The Twelve Apostles were absolutely NOT sent out right away after being appointed Apostles, according to Mark chapters 3 through 6, and Luke chapters 6 through 9.

    So being an Apostle of Jesus involves being sent by Jesus, yes. But that isn’t the only meaning, or even the first and primary meaning. The first thing was “that they might be with Him” personally, together, for His entire earthly ministry, from the time of John the Baptist until Jesus rose to heaven. Jesus poured his life into the 12 Apostles for 3 ½ years very personally training them to be the leaders of the church, and Jesus chose Peter as first among equals.

    The NIV translation inserts the heading “Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas” for the passage Luke wrote in Acts 1:12-26]. The NIV headings were not part of the original text, and sometimes they can be misleading, but in this case I believe the heading is right on.

    Jesus and the Original Apostles knew what an Apostle is better than anyone else in the world. Why is this a strange idea? Why do so many people frequently attack and tear down and dismiss the Original Apostles, particularly Peter, as if they were all incompetent, stupid, and wrong in so many ways, and they didn’t even know what an “Apostle” was? The answer to that question is, they have been listening to the voice of Paul, rather than the voices of Jesus and the Original Apostles.

    As we consider the question “what is an Apostle”, we should carefully listen to the words of the leader that Jesus personally appointed as first among the Apostles, and trained personally for 3 ½ years, Peter.

    “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” [Acts 1:21-22]

    Neither Paul, nor James, nor Luke were with Jesus and the Apostles the whole time, so they were not qualified to be a “witness with the Apostles of Jesus’ resurrection”, which is what it means to be an Apostle. Matthias was qualified, appointed, and later recognized as part of The Twelve. No one except Judas ever lost his apostleship.

    Responding to a question from Peter,
    “Jesus said to them:
    …you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Matthew 19:28]

    We cannot prove that Judas was present at that time, and we cannot prove that Matthias was absent at that time when Jesus spoke those words. Even if Judas was physically present, as we all realize now, he was not a true follower of Jesus. And even if Matthias was physically absent at that particular occasion, Jesus is still establishing the basic qualification for having one of the twelve thrones as being “you who have followed me,” not someone who will follow Jesus in the future, like Paul, James, Luke or anyone else in the world.

    At the Last Supper, Jesus said to His Apostles:
    “You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred on one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” [Luke 22:28-30]

    Was Judas present when Jesus spoke those words? Even if someone wants to be argumentative and say we can’t prove that Judas wasn’t there at the time, we certainly can’t prove that Judas WAS there. Judas obviously didn’t stand by Jesus in his trial, as the whole world knows. But that was the requirement Jesus gave to “sit on thrones:” “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” “You”, speaking to His 11 Apostles who had been walking with Him faithfully for 3 ½ years. Not others in the future who will follow the risen Jesus Christ. Notice that at the Last Supper, when Judas lost his throne and Matthias was definitely absent, Jesus chose to speak of “thrones” rather than “twelve thrones” as he had previously.

    The Apostle John recorded about the New Jerusalem,
    “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” [Revelation 21:14]

    The Apostles are 12 faithful eyewitnesses who walked with Jesus during His entire earthly ministry, and Matthias is the 12th. That’s the short version of my definition of “what is an Apostle.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s