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

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by Neil Godfrey

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.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians with a rebuke.   Uncharacteristically, he does not start the letter by thanking God for the congregation.  On the contrary, he’s angry and he tells them so.  He says that he is “astonished” that the Galatians are “deserting” the one who “called” them in order to turn to a “different gospel.”  He goes on to say that if anyone preaches a “different gospel” from the one that he preached when he converted them to the faith – even if it’s an “angel from heaven” – that one stands under God’s curse.   The gospel that Paul first proclaimed to them is the only true gospel and any other gospel is not a gospel at all.

To understand what he means it is important to know what the historical situation is that Paul is addressing in the letter to the Galatians.  The situation becomes pretty clear in the context of his comments.  Paul had established this church (or these churches) among gentiles (pagans) in central Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  After he left the region to start churches elsewhere, other Christian missionaries arrived who taught the Christians in Galatia a different version of the faith.

According to these others, faith founded on Jesus was a fulfilment of the Jewish Scriptures (on this Paul agreed).  Jesus was the Jewish messiah sent from the Jewish God to the Jewish people in fulfilment of the Jewish law.  Thus, for these other missionaries, to believe in Jesus required a person to be a Jew.  Yes, gentiles could join the people of God and find salvation through Jesus.  But to join the people of God – they had to join the people of God!  The people of God were the Jewish people.  God had given his people a sign to show that they were distinct from all other people on earth.  This is way back in the Old Testament where God tells the father of the Jews, Abraham, that everyone who belongs to the covenant community needs to be circumcised (see Genesis 17).  Jews are circumcised.  Those who convert to Judaism need to be circumcised.  Belonging to the people of God means being circumcised.  The Christian believers in Galatia need to be circumcised.  When God gave the covenant of circumcision to Abraham, he called it an “eternal covenant.”  It wasn’t a temporary measure.  It was permanent.  And God had not changed is mind.  So say Paul’s opponents.

Paul writes his letter to the Galatians in shock, disbelief, and white hot anger.  This is NOT, this is DECIDEDLY NOT, what he had taught the Galatians when he converted them.   Paul’s view was that the death and resurrection of Christ was absolutely the goal to which God’s plan of salvation had been moving from the days of Abraham.  But the point of Jesus’ death was that it brought salvation to all people, Jew and Gentile.  Salvation could not come by keeping the law of God, starting with circumcision.  If the Law could make someone right with God, then there would have been no reason for Christ to have died.  A person could just get circumcised and join the Jewish people.  But salvation didn’t work that way.  Salvation came only through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And since it came apart from the law, a person could participate in it apart from the law.

This was the “gospel” that Paul preached.  When Paul indicates that a salvation came completely “apart from the works of the Law,” he is not saying that salvation comes apart from doing any good deeds — the way Martin Luther and most Protestants since his day have read Paul (until the last 50 years).  Luther read “works of the Law” as “doing good works” – that is “earning one’s salvation.  But that’s taking Paul out of context.  Paul instead is saying that no one needs to do the demands of the Jewish law (such as circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher food) to be right with God.  One needs only faith in Christ.  As he says most clearly in Galatians (in a message he remembers having forcefully delivered to Peter, Jesus’ disciple), “We ourselves (i.e., he and Peter), who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, who know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal. 2:15-16).

When Paul speaks of the gospel that he preached to the Galatians, this was it.  This is what he learned directly from a revelation of Jesus.  He did not learn merely that the death and resurrection of Jesus brought salvation.   This is what other Christians before Paul were saying; that was the belief held by those Paul had been persecuting.  What Paul came to realize when he “saw the light” – that is, when Christ appeared to him after his resurrection – was that this message of salvation was for gentiles as well as Jews.  And it was to go to gentiles without them first having to become Jews.  The salvation of Christ was for all people, Jew and gentile, and was not tied to observing the practices prescribed in the Jewish law.    Paul was the one who first realized this (he claims).  His mission to the gentile lands was part of God’s plan of salvation.  God now was working to save not only the Jews, but also the gentiles.

Being pressed for time I hand over the reply to Earl Doherty. Ehrman has assured us that he in fact read Doherty’s book, Jesus, Neither God Nor Man, but I know what it is like to be so busy that one forgets what one read only a very few years ago. Rather than simply repeat the argument that Doherty targeted in his 2009 publication I would have preferred Ehrman had explained why he continues to repeat the argument after reading (as he assures us he did) Doherty’s criticisms of it:

20 Hyam Maccoby (Paul and Hellenism, p.92) says: “In any case, the expressions paralambanein and paradidonai are not necessarily derived from the Hebrew qibel and masar [the ‘transmitting’ and ‘receiving’ of tradition in Jewish parlance]. As Albert Schweitzer pointed out, these expressions were used in the mystery religions to signify the reception and communication of the revelation received. Schweitzer rejected this derivation [i.e., Paul from the mystery religions] because, in his view, Paul ‘did not live in a world of Hellenistic conceptions’. But this is a view that can be seriously questioned.” Indeed it can, and it is being questioned in this book as well. Maccoby’s quote from Schweitzer is in the latter’s Mysticism of Paul the Apostle, ET 1956, p.266. Unfortunately, Schweitzer did not cite specific sources.

Does Paul never refer to apostolic tradition, to receiving information about Jesus from others? The Greek verb “paralambano’, is used in three key passages in his letters. It means to “receive,” to “take over” something passed on to oneself, usually relating to information or instruction. However, it was a verb also used in the Greek mysteries and in religious experiences generally, to refer to the reception of a revelation from a god.’20 Paul himself applies it in both ways in a crucial passage in Galatians 1:11-12:

For I neither received it [i.e., the gospel Paul preaches] from (any) man, nor was I taught it, but [understood: I received it] through a revelation of Jesus Christ. [NASB]

In this one sentence, Paul uses paralambano in both meanings: receiving something from other men, and receiving something by revelation. In the second thought, the verb is understood, but it cannot be anything other than the “received” verb used previously; the “taught” verb would be in contradiction to the idea of revelation.

Here Paul makes a clear and passionate statement that the gospel he preaches about the Christ has come to him through personal revelation, not through human channels, not from other apostles. The details of that gospel are not spelled out here, but what is he referring to? The attempt is regularly made to assign to this passage a more limited “gospel” than the one he outlines in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. But is this tenable?

In the opening chapter of Galatians, Paul rails against other apostles, or people within the Galatian community, who have come in behind Paul and led some members into following “a different gospel.” Here he does not clarify what that difference was, or what aspect of his message was being challenged, but he lays a curse on anyone, even if he were an angel from heaven, who preaches a gospel at variance with his own. While this would seem to encompass serious dimensions of his teaching, if not its entirety, later in the letter he makes it clear what the central issue was in regard to this occasion:

I tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all…any man who receives circumcision is compelled to keep the whole Law….It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh, so they can avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ, who are trying to compel you to be circumcised. [5:2-3, 6:12]

In chapter 1, then, it is likely that Paul is incensed at those who are urging the necessity for circumcision on the males of the Galatians community, although such “Judaizers,” mention of whom one encounters elsewhere in the epistles, were usually known to urge the adoption (or reinstatement) of other Jewish traditions as well. But after his initial outburst (1:6-9), Paul broadens the scope of his argument in an attempt to justify the value of his gospel in general and his own integrity in formulating it, giving his readers some of his own historical background, first as a persecutor of the faith and then as a convert and apostle. He is not currying favor with anyone, he says, but seeking only God’s approval, serving Christ.

21 Paul goes on to emphasize that he got his gospel from no one else by pointing out that he would have had little opportunity to do so. This is why he goes to the trouble of telling the Galatians that after his conversion he did not “go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me” (1:17) but went off to Arabia for three years. Then when he did go to Jerusalem, he makes the further point that while he was there he saw none of the apostles except for Peter and James, and he swears that this is the truth. None of this information and swearing would be necessary or relevant were he not seeking to strengthen his claim that he did not get his gospel about Jesus from other men, in this case from the Jerusalem group. He would hardly need to defend himself against deriving it from Peter and James if all he were referring to was freedom for gentiles from circumcision and the Law—something they were not likely to be advocating.

Thus, when he makes his declaration in 1:11-12 that the gospel the Galatians heard him preach was not “received” from any man, nor taught to him, but rather received through a revelation from (or of) Jesus Christ, he should no longer be regarded as speaking solely of the issue of circumcision. The “gospel you heard me preach” would have encompassed much more than his policy on gentiles being exempt from that aspect of the Law. He is defending the specific issue at hand by defending the integrity of his entire gospel, as one which came directly from heaven and not from other men. Paul would hardly be saying that the gospel the Galatians heard him preach about freedom from circumcision is something he received from heaven, while the rest of his gospel content had in fact been received from men. He would make no such sweeping statement if he did not intend it to apply to the entirety of his preaching message, which included his theology of the death and resurrection of Christ and its derivation from scripture. Regardless of the specific debate going on in Galatia, Paul is now defending and playing up the source of his gospel as a whole. He is proud of his personal revelation from heaven and makes no bones about it.”21

In fact, no one was likely to be challenging Paul on the issue of freedom from circumcision and the Law and accusing him of getting his preaching on that score from anyone else, especially Peter and James. Thus there would have been no need for Paul to object so adamantly to a non-existent accusation. His declaration clearly applies to his entire gospel.

As such, Galatians 1:11-12 must determine how we read the statement he makes in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:

For I delivered to you…what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures. [NASB]

Here we have a statement of Paul’s fundamental gospel about the Christ. In Galatians 1:11-12 he has declared that he received his gospel from no man, but through revelation. Unless we assume that he is blatantly contradicting himself, logic dictates that Paul’s “received” in 1 Corinthians 15:3 must mean “received through revelation.” And where has Paul derived his information about Christ’s death and resurrection? He tells us twice in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: “according to the scriptures” (kata tas graphas). While scholars have always taken this to mean “in fulfillment of the scriptures”—despite the fact that such an idea Paul nowhere discusses—the Greek preposition kata can also render the meaning behind the phrase “as we learn from the scriptures.”22

22 For example, “According to the newspaper this morning, the President went to Chicago.” The President is not fulfilling the newspaper account, that account is informing the reader of the President’s actions. Just as scripture informed Paul about the Christ and his activities.This is also an indicator of the nature of ‘revelation’ in the early Christian movement. In most cases, we need not envision anything as dramatic as visions or voices accompanied by bright lights and other special effects. A simple inner conviction and perhaps a sense of some spiritual presence during meditation or perusing scripture was likely all that was needed. (I am reminded of the scene in the film Amadeus, in which the mediocre composer Salieri is at his harpsichord composing his latest mediocre opera, and when he comes up with a melody he feels is particularly worthy—i.e., less banal than his usual output—he turns to a nearby crucifix and says “Thank-you.” I think that may be not much less than the usual kind of ‘revelation’ early Christians seem to bandy about; we need merely substitute a copy of the Hebrew bible for an 18th century harpsichord.)

It may be objected that Paul would be making a false claim here in implying (as he seems to do in Galatians 1:16 as well) that it was he who ‘discovered’ Christ and his redeeming acts in scripture, since others had been apostles before him and were presumably (as he says in 15:11) teaching the same thing. But we cannot lay too great a burden on Paul’s faithfulness to meticulous accuracy. He is pleading his case in the face of challenges. While he was part of a broad movement which imagined God had revealed the Son and his role in salvation, he is naturally at pains to place the focus on himself as the prime, superior expression of that movement and its interpretation from scripture—basically the one who has gotten it right. And to some extent, he may have been justified, having brought a sophistication to that revelation from God which no one else had achieved. The survival of his name and work where many other apostles of the Christ went into oblivion would indicate that.

If Christ dying for sin and rising from death is a revealed gospel, extracted from scripture, it would seem that both the death and resurrection are articles of faith, not of historical witness. Paul is not likely to declare that he knows of these things through revelation if they were common knowledge about historical events passed on through oral tradition. (JNGNM, pp. 44-46)


If other apostles were not preaching a gospel of sacrificial atonement through the death of Jesus what sort of Christ did they preach? One suggestion was proposed by P.L. Couchoud:


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32 thoughts on “Did Paul Learn the Gospel from Others? Bart Ehrman’s and Earl Doherty’s Arguments”

    1. Because some believers thought it sounded better – its not as if there is any evidence that it actually happened. There isn’t even any evidence that Peter existed, just hearsay.

    2. Mary Ann Tolbert in Sowing the Gospel sees the Parable of the Sower as symbolic of the four types of people responding to Jesus: the disciples are led by “rock” (Peter) and represent the rocky soil, no foundation, very enthusiastic at the beginning but fall away when persecution comes.

      We can thus see Peter in the first gospel as a representative of failure, not long-term church leadership.

      Matthew opposes the pro-Pauline Gospel of Mark and stresses the importance of law over grace — and Peter is rescued from being the “rocky soil” to become the stable rock. Peter’s church stands opposed to Mark’s Pauline body.

      In Acts (mid second century, an anti-Marcionite romance) Paul is matched against Peter as something of an equal — Paul mirrors the works, miracles, sufferings of Peter. There is no single clear leader in Jerusalem, unless we point to the fleeting mention of James at the Jerusalem Conference. Luke is a catholicizing reconciler and brings Paul into the orbit of orthodoxy. Around the same time the Pastoral epistles were “discovered” and added to Paul’s corpus of letters, thereby adding to the necessity to interpret Paul through orthodoxy.

      Irenaeus went beyond Acts and created the first genealogy of orthodoxy back to Peter (following Matthew rather than Luke-Acts — Gospel of Matthew was extremely popular among the ‘proto-orthodox’ in second century) as a counter to the influence of Marcion.

      As for the question of Galatians, especially the references to Cephas, there are many debates.

      1. For those that do not speak Hellenic Greek (Koine),
        Click on the “listen” icon of translate.google to hear the names in modern Greek which should be close to Hellenic Greek ???

        Greek names of the Apostles per the Gospel of Mark (Mk. 3:13-19)
        Simōni Petron [Símoni Pétron] translate.google –> Simon Peter @ https://translate.google.com/#el/en/%CE%A3%CE%AF%CE%BC%CF%89%CE%BD%CE%B9%20%CE%A0%CE%AD%CF%84%CF%81%CE%BF%CE%BD

        Greek names of the Disciples per the Gospel of John
        Simōn Petros [Símon Pétros] translate.google –> Simon Peter @ https://translate.google.com/#el/en/%CE%A3%CE%AF%CE%BC%CF%89%CE%BD%CE%A0%CE%AD%CF%84%CF%81%CE%BF%CF%82
        Simōn Kēphas [Símon Kifás] translate.google –> Simon Cephas @ https://translate.google.com/#el/en/%CE%A3%CE%AF%CE%BC%CF%89%CE%BD%CE%9A%CE%B7%CF%86%E1%BE%B6%CF%82

        Simon, from Greek Symeon, from Hebrew Shim’on, literally “hearkening, hearing,” from shama “he heard.”
        Peter, from Greek Petros, literally “stone, rock.”
        Cephas, from Old Aramaic (Syriac) Kefa, literally “stone.”

          1. K. Lake (1921). “Simon, Cephas, Peter”. ”The Harvard Theological Review”. Scholars Press. p. 96. “Peter is only mentioned once in the Pauline Epistles [Galatians 2, 7 ff.]; Cephas is mentioned eight times. [Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1921), pp. 95-97]” @ https://books.google.com/books?id=IZ9JAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA96

            Per Galatians 2:7, the one and only mention of Petros [Πέτρος]. He should rightly be called Peter the Great [Πέτρος ο Μέγας – Pétros o Mégas]. Was he a contemporary of Paul; what great things did he accomplish? Answer: don’t know! But we do know that he was so great that Paul would compare himself to Petros —fully confident that Peter the Great was so well known that no exposition about him was required.

  1. Without getting between Ehrman and Doherty, it does seem ‘close to the surface’ that in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is discussing matters upon which many agree (verse 11: Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed). In Galatians Paul plainly focuses upon matters about which there is urgent disagreement.

    That is, two different things. There is no norm of ‘non-contradiction’ that forbids Paul the use of phrases like “the gospel I-we preached” to refer to two distinct things on distinct occasions to distinct audiences. On neither occasion, however, would the phrases then refer to Paul’s entire preaching. There’s no norm against that, either.

      1. The chief claim I addressed isn’t much burdened with detail. Proposed: Paul’s statement on one occasion contradicts his statement on a different occasion. That’s yes-or-no. A necessary condition for the proposed to prevail is that Paul’s words referred to the identical thing both times. Plainly that is untrue, and the claim which I addressed thus fails.

        There are plenty of other things to say about Paul’s preachings, whether as a whole or in its distinct parts, topics richly blessed with details. May the devil take the hindmost.

  2. Per James Tabor, ”
    The essentials of the message Paul preaches are not coming from those who were with Jesus, whom Paul sarcastically calls the “so-called pillars of the church,” adding “what they are means nothing to me” (Galatians 2:6), but from voices, visions, and revelations that Paul is “hearing” and “seeing.” For some that is a strong foundation. For many, including most historians, such “traditions” cannot be taken as reliable historical testimony. (James Tabor, “Paul as Clairvoyant,” accessed 21/09/2012, http://jamestabor.com/2012/05/23/paul-as-clairvoyant-2).
    ” [James Tabor ap. Lataster, Raphael (2015). “Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories — A Brief Pseudo-Bayesian Metacritique of the Sources”. The Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 6:1.] – available online @ http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=imwjournal

  3. What is not appreciated enough is that there were two distinct versions of Christianity in the first century. Jewish Christianity whose followers kept the law and Gentile Christianity (which was Paul’s unique contribution, his revelation, his gospel) The orthodox apologists continually fudge the distinction. There was never any compromise or conciliation between the two branches. Acts is fiction.

    Paul says he persecuted Christians before his conversion so he must have had contact with people that believed in Jesus. However, these were Jewish Christians. These Christians did not, according to Paul, have the correct idea about Jesus or a complete understanding of his salvific work. They still practised the Jewish law! Hence his claim that his version of Christianity was unique, is actually correct. This was the revelation. There were no Gentile Christians before Paul came along. His unique revelation or contribution to the theology was that the law was obsolete. While not condemning people who still practised the Law, Paul strictly forbad these kinds of Christians to preach this theology to others! He wanted this version of Christianity to not spread, especially to Greeks. He didn’t mind so much if they were Jews. (In fact, Jewish Christianity petered out. Only a few churches survived in the areas where Christianity was born, ie around Pella. See Epiphanius.)

    However, elsewhere in Galatians, Paul appears to fellowship with these people, and regards them as brothers but note, definitely NOT his superiors, despite the fact that they were Christians before him.
    How to understand this? Why would he seek the blessing of inferior Christians knowing that their version of Christianity was defective? I think he reasoned as follows.

    1. There are two versions of Christianity.
    2. My version is superior to theirs, because my version covers ALL people and ALL circumstances. It is UNIVERSAL.
    3. Jesus will appear soon, so no need to worry about their quaint ideas. Jesus will sort it out when he returns.
    4. Respect them as the pioneers of the faith. They have suffered a lot from other Jews. I know, as I was one of those who made them suffer.
    5. There are far more Gentiles ready and willing to embrace the new religion than Jews, therefore we have the numbers.
    6. I feel pity for them as they can’t let go of the old traditions, completely. I understand as I used to be a dyed-in-the-wool Jew myself.
    7. Paul’s guilt was assuaged by the monetary collection he facilitated for the poor (Jewish) Christians in Jerusalem.

    1. Per Tom Dykstra, relying primarily upon Michael Goulder’s argument in ”St. Paul vs. St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions”, “Peter’s mission believed that the heavenly kingdom had already arrived and believers were already enjoying the resurrected life, while Paul stressed that the resurrection was yet to come and believers’ present life was more like the crucifixion. . . . Peter’s mission stressed tongues and visions and gifts of the spirit, while Paul’s stressed love and charity; Peter’s mission stressed the need to give away all of one’s possessions since the end had already come, while Paul’s mission advised people to keep working and earning a living.” [Dykstra, Tom (1 October 2012). ”Mark, Canonizer of Paul”. OCABS Press. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-60191-020-2.]

  4. If there is any justice, History will laugh at Ehrman and others similarly motivated to be New Testament ‘centrists’; who treat New Testament studies in a way not dissimilar to William Lane Craig: as an ‘aw, shucks’ field with no real stakes other than to pull by the nose the ranks of the converted. In today’s environment, it’s somehow reasonable to reinvigorate Schweitzer’s outdated thesis for no other reason than that it was historically significant, and to push it on a mainstream audience in as slippery a set of terms as possible (always in collarless shirts), with all sorts of disingenuous reasoning cloaked in appeals to consensus, reasonability, etc.

    I’d like to say as forcefully as possible in these comments that only a few read: Ehrman can do this sort of thing precisely because it doesn’t really matter. New Testament studies is not a ‘real’ field. Just as Henry Kissinger once said that dispute in the university are vicious to the extent that they are inconsequential (paraphrasing), it is the same here: no one cares about the historical Jesus, so an Ehrman can position himself as a secular scholar while still using the same relentlessly slippery approach as a William Lane Craig.

    As an aside, the recent claim by Ehrman that he is a historian – just because he writes about past events – after years of dismissing those who didn’t have the exactly perfect academic credentials to debate Biblical matters…. when will reasonable people be done with this guy? He is not a ‘mainstream’ scholar representing the best of contemporary research. He’s a craven opportunist, when you get down to it. There’s a place today in the crossover territory between book publishing and mainstream academe, and Ehrman has positioned himself to occupy it fully. There’s nothing in his work that is so original or so unruly that it transgresses this simple goal.

    1. Bart Ehrman:
      Moody Bible Institute – Major: Bible-Theology
      Wheaton College – Major: English (BA)
      Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div.)
      Princeton Theological Seminary (Ph.D.)

      Sheesh, I have better academic credentials in History than Bart.

  5. Here’s a great quote from Dale Allison, against the (McGrath) notion of any “consensus” on matters relating to historical Jesus. It’s the current offering on Le Donne’ The Jesus Blog:

    ‘Study of the historical Jesus belongs to the diversity and pluralism of modernity, or, if you prefer, postmodernity, and there can be no easy appeal to the consensus on much of anything. The biblical guild is not a group-mind thinking the same thoughts. Nor are the experts a single company producing a single product, “history.” As Chesterton says somewhere: “There is no history; there are only historians.” The unification of academic opinion would be almost as miraculous as the union of the churches. If you are holding your breath waiting for the consensus of the specialists, you will pass out.

    ~Dale C. Allison Jr.’

    1. I should follow up that quotation and its context. Without taking away from your own point, there is another problem that surfaces here. Allison is using the philosophical understandings of historical reconstructions to justify the diversity in historical Jesus studies, but in reality they don’t apply. The real reason for the diversity is not varying ways of piecing the evidence or data together, but actually it lies in not being able to agree on what is the data and what should be counted as evidence.

      1. Per Carrier,
        The historicist and ahistoricist argument for Jesus hinges on how well each theory predicts each item of evidence, which items of evidence count, and how they count towards the most probable Bayesian conclusion.

        1. That’s a really good point. But here, I wouldn’t let the Perfect be the enemy of the Good.

          Dale Allison goes very, very far in making comments that would mostly support Vridar, and mythicists’ themes. Even noting key terms used against McGrath: like “guild,” and “consensus.”

          I think it would be useful to quote him a lot. Though maybe every quote could have a small, explicit caveat included.

          1. Allison, Dale C. (1 November 2010). ”Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History”. Baker Academic. p. 460. ISBN 978-0-8010-3585-2. “Time after time, if we are honest, arguments concocted to demonstrate that Jesus really did say this or really did do that fall flat. Historians of Jesus, including myself, have too often assumed that we should be able, with sufficient ingenuity, to reconstruct the genealogy of almost every individual tradition. But it is not so. Some things just cannot be done, and desire does not beget ability.”

          2. Unfortunately Allison goes only so far and not as far as necessary to bring his inquiry into line with mainstream historical research. Notice in the words of hi you quote above that he assumes the existence of traditions that theoretically ought to be reconstructable. He begins with a model of origins and transmission and then reads all the documents through that model.

      2. Neil: thanks for those very useful caveats. Stll, I think that, after making our differences with him clear, we could really use Allision to great effect.

        The important thing about Allison, is that he is in an institution that has immense clout, prestige, in the world of academe: Princeton Theological Seminary. Princeton is sometimes rated as the very best American University; above Harvard.

        Princeton Theological has at some points been denigrated; but at other points presented as the Protestant crown jewel of American theology colleges.

        A few quotes from this guy, reminding readers where he is employed, goes a very, very long way in convincing academic skeptics that Mythicism is not a marginal and academically unacceptable endeavor.

        1. You might be pleased to see that I have referenced some choice quotations from Dale Allison: http://vridar.org/?s=allison+circularity+

          I have used Allison’s words in past discussions with McGrath but of course such efforts cut no ice with him. And my experience leads me to believe that even Allison would be horrified at the conclusions I draw from his own admissions. People like Allison, according to my understanding, go to the edges of scepticism but always hold back from slipping over into depths that threaten to challenge their personal religious faith.

          1. It may be true that Allison holds back from the final conclusion. But if McGrath dislikes him, then he must be doing something right. Especially, Allison attacks McGrath’s favorite word: his assertion that a “consensus” of scholars support this or that.

            You might reread that Allison book. Now that McGrath is publishing a little, a few qualified quotes from Princeton, are going to hit hard. McGrath is only at Butler. Miles below Princeton in prestige.

  6. Paul is a fictional character 99.9 percent both with regard to his “authorings” and “doings”….probably 100 per cent…in which case -he- is reduced to —–cyphership [a new word?]

  7. Sorry whot’s going on in Gal:
    Is Paul being a politician?

    2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

    ἱστορῆσα – more than just getting t know one another?

    1. He is emphasising his legitimacy is not from, independence of, and equality with, the Jerusalem apostles. He is pointing out the hypocrisy and subordination of Peter; who is answering to, and fearing, men; rather than God. The perennial cry of the Judaic reformer: calling the people to, and back to God, and restating there is no authority, law, king, or rule but God. Of cause it is political: separating religion and politics; church and state, is a recent and Western thing. The Ancients then, and the Muslims and Evangelicals now, would and do look at you blankly if you suggested otherwise. That is at very least; the latter usually erupt!

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