Daily Archives: 2017-04-10 13:16:14 UTC

Did Paul Learn the Gospel from Others? Bart Ehrman’s and Earl Doherty’s Arguments

I continue from the previous post with Bart Ehrman’s post and the query raised about its argument. Ehrman continues:

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

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

The key passage is 1 Corinthians 15:3-6.   Here Paul is reminding the Corinthian Christians what he preached to them when he brought to them the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Pay careful attention to how he introduces his comments:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.   Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep….”

Note: he indicates that he “passed on” this message of Jesus’ death and resurrection as he himself had “received” it.   Now, you might think that this means that he received it straight from Jesus when Jesus appeared to him a couple of years after his resurrection.  There are three reasons for thinking that this is not what he means.

Ehrman’s sentence I have bolded is false. “Pay careful attention to how [Paul] introduces his comments” indeed! Paul does not tell us “explicitly” (as Ehrman claims) that he learned of the death and resurrection of Jesus from others. Paul makes no such explicit statement and Ehrman acknowledges this fact in the very following sentences when he prepares his readers to listen to three reasons for thinking Paul somehow implicitly (not explicitly) means that he must mean that he learned of the gospel from others. If Paul told us explicitly that he learned things from others there would be no need to compile three reasons to persuade us that that is what he meant.

There are several other errors and problems in the ensuing paragraphs but time constraints prompt me to bypass those for now and skip directly to his last point, (B):


What does Paul mean in his letter to the Galatians when he says that he did not receive his gospel from humans but direct from God through a revelation of Jesus?  Does he mean that he was the one (through direct divine inspiration) who came up with the idea that it was the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather than, say, Jesus’ life and teachings, that brings salvation?  And if so, doesn’t that mean that Paul himself would be the founder and creator of Christianity, since Christianity is not the religion of Jesus himself, but the religion about Jesus, rooted in faith in his death and resurrection?

It may seem like that’s the case, but it’s not.  Not at all.   Belief in Jesus’ death and resurrection were around before Paul and that Paul inherited this belief from Christians who were before him.   But then what would Paul mean when he explicitly says in Galatians 1:11-12

“For I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me – that it is not a human affair; for I neither received it from a human nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ”?

That sure sounds like he is saying that his gospel message came straight from Jesus, not from humans, right?  Yes, right, it does sound that way.  But it’s important to know – and not just to assume – what Paul means by his “gospel” in this passage.  He doesn’t mean what you might at first think he means.
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