(Part 9 – CONCLUSION) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

  • EDITED (07/12/2023 – 8:09 pm Atlantic Canada Time)


(Part 1) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 2) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 3) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 4) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 5) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 6) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 7) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus

(Part 8) The Philosophy of History: Professor Bart Ehrman’s New Course Comparing and Contrasting The Apostle Paul With The Historical Jesus


(i) What did Paul know about Jesus?

  • It comes as a surprise to most people to find that Paul says very little about the life and teachings of Jesus. In this lecture we examine an inventory of his references, from Jesus’ birth (“born of a woman”) to his crucifixion; we then reflect on all the crucial features of Jesus’ life Paul does not mention – his temptation, preaching of the coming kingdom, parables, exorcisms, miracles, triumphal entry, trial before Pilate, and on and on.  This assessment leads to the all-important question: why doesn’t Paul tell us more? Did he not know more? How could he not know more? He was personally acquainted, for example, with Jesus’ own brother James and his closest disciple Peter.  If he knew more than he says, was it because he wasn’t interested in Jesus’ life and teachings, but only his death and resurrection? Or did he assume everyone knew all the other stories, even though he was writing before the Gospels? Or did he think the stories were not relevant to the issues he was addressing in his letters? (Bart Ehrman)

Regarding the historical Jesus, Paul says little.  Paul says Jesus was:

  • Born of a woman.  This means “human” (Job 14:1; Matthew 11:11).  Perhaps this is to point out that while Paul thought Jesus was a pre-existent heavenly being, he did live on earth.
  • Jesus had brothers (plural: 1 Cor 9:5) who took their wives with them on their missionary journeys.  Paul names one of the brother James at Gal 1:19.  Paul isn’t just saying per mythicism that James was just sympatico with Jesus because he is also talking about Cephas and John so why wouldn’t they be sympatico with Jesus?
  • Jesus was Jewish, born under the law (was given and kept the Jewish law), from the line of David.  He only ministered to Jews (Rom 15:8)
  • Paul says Jesus appeared to the 12, which may indicate he doesn’t know the story of Judas’s betrayal.  I have argued elsewhere the Judas story may have been invented to go along with the general theme in the gospels of Jesus being conspired against by the Jewish elite, denied justice by Pilate, turned on by the crowd, abandoned, failed his teaching (they got violent at the arrest), denied, and betrayed by his followers.  Paul says in 1 Cor 11:23 not that Jesus was betrayed, but he was handed over by God (Rom 8:32), handed over being the way Paul otherwise uses the term parodidomi.  Jesus’s death was part of God’s plan.  For me, it’s interesting paradidomi also means betrayed so it could also refer to God lying to Jesus in Gethsemane, as we also seem to get the desperate prayer answered in Hebrews.  I have argued this elsewhere.
  • The teachings of Jesus Paul refers to as Jesus having said are all in 1 Cor and are Jesus predicted his sacrificial death at the last supper, no divorce, and pay ministers.
  • Paul knows Jesus was crucified
  • Perhaps the reason Paul says little of Jesus’s life is he wanted his hearers to focus on the salvific element.  To the Corinthians he said he decided to know nothing among them but Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2; 1 Cor 15).  Perhaps Paul knew little of Jesus’ life and what little he did know wasn’t really relevant to his mission.

(ii) Was Paul’s message radically different from that of Jesus?

  • Paul and Jesus obviously had a lot in common. They were both Jewish men of the first century, both from Jewish households raised in Jewish contexts, deeply concerned about the Jewish Bible and the true worship of the Jewish God. Moreover, they were both deeply entrenched in apocalyptic thinking, understanding that the world was mortally afflicted with evil forces opposed to God and convinced that God was soon to bring an end to this wicked age by sending a cosmic judge from heaven to destroy all that was evil and bring salvation for those who were his faithful.  But the differences between the two are also quite stark. Jesus maintained that God would forgive the sins of his errant children if they would simply repent and turned their lives around, but Paul insisted that God required an atoning sacrifice and that no other way – not even extreme obedience to God’s law – could contribute to salvation. God didn’t forgive people when they asked for it and committed themselves to doing better; he needed someone to pay with his blood, and that is what Jesus did.  If Jesus was right, that God would freely forgive sinners, how could Paul be right that God required a substitutionary atonement? Was Paul a follower of the teachings of Jesus? Was Jesus’ an advocate of the religion of Paul? (Bart Ehrman)


  • Jesus and Paul were both first century apocalyptic Jews, and there was a cosmic battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and people were taking sides.  It was all according to God’s plan and a judgment was coming where there would be rewards and punishments, and the dead would be resurrected and judged depending on the side they took.  A cosmic figure from heaven would come as God’s chosen judge.  Jesus thought this would happen in the lifetime of his followers, and Paul thought he would be alive to see it.  There was urgency because people needed to be saved from the coming judgment.
  • You fulfill the law by loving God above all else and loving your neighbor as yourself.


  • J: God forgives those who repent / P: God requires atonement.  Atonement is when someone pays your debt for you, while forgiveness is when the person owed forgives the debt.
  • J: It’s all about Jesus’s teachings on how to live / P: It’s all about Jesus’s death and resurrection
  • J: The need to return to God / P: The need to turn to Jesus
  • J: The need to behave as God demands.  So, you don’t even need to know the message of Jesus as long as you’re doing the right thing / P: The need to believe in the atoning death of God’s messiah
  • J: Keep the Torah / P: The Torah is irrelevant, you start obeying God only after being saved through faith and baptism because then you can follow the law because you are no longer enslaved to sin.
  • J: Jesus the human prophet / P: Jesus the divine sacrifice.

In Mark 10, Jesus said to get heaven you must keep the commandments, and to really get rewarded sell everything you have and give to the poor.  Jesus’s disciples did this, leaving everything behind to follow Jesus.  For Paul, this was irrelevant for salvation and what mattered instead was faith in the death and resurrection, and literally unifying with Christ through baptism.  Likewise, Jesus talks about the sheep who get into heaven because they helped those in need.  The goats did not help the needy but focused on themselves, so they don’t get in.  Paul would not have taught these things, and the historical Jesus did not teach the death and resurrection.

Paul is an interesting character. He certainly repented, to the point he considered himself the least of the apostles because of how he persecuted the church. But for my purposes, perhaps even more important is persecutor Saul/Paul as an example of an evil that does not know itself, him thinking in fact he was the highest good in his zealousness for the law, but Jesus appeared and melted the scales away from his eyes: “a-letheia” in Greek, un-covering.

Paul had a view of Christianity that it was continuous with his teachings.  But many people, including people in Paul’s own church disagreed, and the actual relationship between Jesus and Paul seems to be an arbitrary one.  If Jesus was right that you could repent of your sin and return to God, why would Jesus need to die?  Jesus thought he and the 12 would rule the coming Kingdom.  Why would God require a human sacrifice if the God of the Hebrew scriptures was one of forgiveness?  Paul and Jesus had different religions: the religion of Jesus, and the religion about Jesus.


This was a really great set of lectures by Ehrman on the difference between Jesus and Paul, where Ehrman concluded a fundamental difference between Jesus and Paul: the repentance Law obeying religion of Jesus and the death/resurrection vicarious atonement faith of Paul.  It is the difference between the 2 concepts I am always working with of interpreting Christianity with a forgiving God, or a punisher God.

This has been a major project for me over many years and I am delighted that Ehrman and I are sympatico on the historical Jesus who does not advocate vicarious sin atonement.  I have  inserted various questions and comments for further inquiry throughout the posts I did on this lecture course.

On the other hand, defending Ehrman’s vicarious substitution interpretation of Paul for a moment, even if we concede to prof Ehrman the point that Paul has just basic vicarious substitutionary atonement in mind and we see nothing of the Moral Influence cross we find in Luke, some interesting possibilities arise: Maybe Mark is not a canonizer of Paul as some argue but a satirist of Paul in the name of rescuing the historical Jesus: In this way (i) we have the satire of the grossly unjust release of who Pilate would have seen as “the evil Barabbas,” critiquing the Yom Kippur sacrificial tradition by showing the absurdity of the Jewish practice if the Romans did it / and a story in Mark where the soldier converts (“Truly this was God’s Son”) without any need of the resurrection appearances as evidence (which was so central for Paul, esp 1 Cor 15:14). Similarly, maybe Paul wasn’t the great hero of Luke Acts we all thought he was, but there is a deeper level since we definitely see a Moral Influence cross in Luke rather than a penal substitution one (“Truly this was an innocent man”), and in terms of imagery we seem to secretly be seeing Paul as the villain of Acts. This would fit in with the contrast between Paul’s “excluding Christian communities” and the “saving everyone” universalism of Luke (esp Luke 3:6), and so Luke would be thus be thinking through Paul’s core message (“there are neither male nor female, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ” Gal 3:28) better than Paul does! Hence, Price writes regarding Paul’s conversion in Acts:

  1. Paul’s Conversion (9:1-21)
  • As the great Tübingen critics already saw, the story of Paul’s visionary encounter with the risen Jesus not only has no real basis in the Pauline epistles but has been derived by Luke more or less directly from 2 Maccabees 3’s story of Heliodorus. In it one Benjaminite named Simon (3:4) tells Apollonius of Tarsus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (3:5), that the Jerusalem Temple houses unimaginable wealth that the Seleucid king might want to appropriate for himself. Once the king learns of this, he sends his agent Heliodorus to confiscate the loot. The prospect of such a violation of the Temple causes universal wailing and praying among the Jews. But Heliodorus is miraculously turned back when a shining warrior angel appears on horseback. The stallion’s hooves knock Heliodorus to the ground, where two more angels lash him with whips (25-26). He is blinded and is unable to help himself, carried to safety on a stretcher. Pious Jews pray for his recovery, lest the people be held responsible for his condition. The angels reappear to Heliodorus, in answer to these prayers, and they announce God’s grace to him: Heliodorus will live and must henceforth proclaim the majesty of the true God. Heliodorus offers sacrifice to his Saviour (3:35) and departs again for Syria, where he reports all this to the king. In Acts the plunder of the Temple has become the persecution of the church by Saul (also called Paulus, an abbreviated form of Apollonius), a Benjaminite from Tarsus. Heliodorus’ appointed journey to Jerusalem from Syria has become Saul’s journey from Jerusalem to Syria. Saul is stopped in his tracks by a heavenly visitant, goes blind and must be taken into the city, where the prayers of his former enemies avail to raise him up. Just as Heliodorus offers sacrifice, Saul undergoes baptism. Then he is told henceforth to proclaim the risen Christ, which he does… Luke has again added details from Euripides. In The Bacchae, in a sequence Luke has elsewhere rewritten into the story of Paul in Philippi (Portefaix, pp. 170), Dionysus has appeared in Thebes as an apparently mortal missionary for his own sect. He runs afoul of his cousin, King Pentheus who wants the licentious cult (as he views it) to be driven out of the country. He arrests and threatens Dionysus, only to find him freed from prison by an earthquake. Dionysus determines revenge against the proud and foolish king by magically compelling Pentheus to undergo conversion to faith in him (“Though hostile formerly, he now declares a truce and goes with us. You see what you could not when you were blind,” 922-924) and sending Pentheus, in woman’s guise, to spy upon the Maenads, his female revelers. He does so, is discovered, and is torn limb from limb by the women, led by his own mother. As the hapless Pentheus leaves, unwittingly, to meet his doom, Dionysus comments, “Punish this man. But first distract his wits; bewilder him with madness… After those threats with which he was so fierce, I want him made the laughingstock of Thebes” (850-851, 854-855). “He shall come to know Dionysus, son of Zeus, consummate god, most terrible, and yet most gentle, to mankind” (859-861). Pentheus must be made an example, as must poor Saul, despite himself. His conversion is a punishment, meting out to the persecutor his own medicine. Do we not detect a hint of ironic malice in Christ’s words to Ananias about Saul? “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).

This New Testament reference to Luke using the Bacchae leads me back to my first New Testament studies essay regarding the reference of the Bacchae and the New Testament which I started over 20 years ago and begins the Scriptures Study project. Matthew would work as satirizing Paul too as Matthew is the most Jewish Gospel, thereby sharply contrasting with the pagan focus of Paul. Many studies have contrasted Paul with Matthew, perhaps the most popular one being Barrie Wilson’s “How Jesus Became Christian.” And with the Gospel of John, we seem to have John rescuing the high Christology Jesus we find in Paul that gets erased in the synoptics, but eliminating the central failing of Paul: Paul’s apocalyptic Jesus, who had been grossly falsified by John’s time (Paul’s error of the resurrected Jesus being the first fruits of the general resurrection of souls that had begun at the end of days).

And I guess this leaves us with the question of mythicism and it’s falsity, because if the saving crucifixion and resurrection are not the most original and ancient understanding Jesus, then he was not originally a Jewish iteration of the dying/rising savior god mytheme, and so mythicism is wrong.  In fact, mythicism can’t even be added to the growing collection of historical Jesus portraits, but is demonstrably falsified by our oldest understanding of Jesus, that professor Bart Ehrman outlined for us: see New MythVision Interview With Bart Ehrman: Is Ehrman A Secret Mythicist? That’s what you get for waking up in Vegas!

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Thanks for spending time with me on my Scripture Study Project!

  • EDITED (07/12/2023 – 8:09 pm Atlantic Canada Time)