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Gullotta’s review of Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus, point #4, “James, the brother of the Lord”

by Neil Godfrey
This is not the first time we have seen Gullotta inexplicably fail to acknowledge that Carrier is prepared to concede for the sake of a fortiori argument the very position Gullotta is arguing.

The focus of my response will center on Carrier’s

  1. claim that a pre-Christian angel named Jesus existed,
  2. his understanding of Jesus as a non-human and celestial figure within the Pauline corpus,
  3. his argument that Paul understood Jesus to be crucified by demons and not by earthly forces,
  4. his claim that James, the brother of the Lord, was not a relative of Jesus but just a generic Christian within the Jerusalem community,
  5. his assertion that the Gospels represent Homeric myths,
  6. and his employment of the Rank-Raglan heroic arche-type as a means of comparison.

(Gullotta, p. 325. my formatting/numbering for quick reference)

For an annotated list of previous posts in this series see the archived page:

Daniel Gullotta’s Review of Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus

This is a new page that I have added to the Archives by Topic, Annotated — see the right margin.


Daniel Gullotta begins is foray into Richard Carrier’s argument that James was a fictive, not biological, brother of Jesus.

It has been claimed that if there is an Achilles’ heel to the Jesus Myth theory, it would be the reference to ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ (Gal 1.19). Typically, historical Jesus scholars take James to be one of Jesus’ many biological siblings; however, Carrier and other mythicists have argued that the familial language used throughout the Pauline letters is reason enough to doubt that James is Jesus’ biological brother.

(Gullotta, p. 334)

Gullotta does not identify any of the “other mythicists” who share Carrier’s argument in his footnote so it appears he knows only Carrier’s mythicist argument. For other arguments about this passage and important background information that needs to be taken into account in its interpretation see any of the other posts addressing these points. Again we are faced with the irony of reading a review that fails to consider opposing arguments in the context of all relevant background information when reviewing a book about the importance of considering alternative hypothesis against all relevant background information.

But the most curious detail of Gullotta’s criticism of this point is his failure to comment on Carrier’s conclusion that he will argue that the passage in Galatians 1:19 is exactly 100% what is to be expected if James indeed was the biological brother of Jesus!

However, I must argue a fortiori, and to that end . . .  I’ll allow that it [i.e. Galatians 1:19 being a reference to James’ biological sibling status to Jesus] might be twice as likely on historicity [despite their] internal ambiguity and surrounding silence. . . .

(Carrier, p. 592)

Carrier’s point is to lay out all the evidence and background information and then in that context to compare rival hypotheses or interpretations. That is the essence of the Bayesian method that Gullotta elsewhere indicates he fails to understand. Without that understanding Gullotta is able to do no more than repeat the same proof-text type arguments that are based on scholarly tradition rather than a comprehensive survey of the data.

This is not the first time we have seen Gullotta inexplicably fail to acknowledge that Carrier is prepared to concede for the sake of a fortiori argument the very position Gullotta is arguing! One cannot imagine a more solid evidence that he has failed to understand the whole methodology of Carrier’s argument – or the principles of sound historical reasoning with competing hypotheses.

James the Just
James . . .

There is a light-hearted moment in Gullotta’s review, however, when he proceeds to demonstrate his assertion that

there is solid evidence to affirm James was the biological brother of Jesus.

(Gullotta, p. 335)

Hold tight. Prepare for another Gish Gallop. The “solid evidence” appears to consist of

  • a list of seven names in Paul’s letters who are said to be a sample of those who are not called “the brother of the Lord”
  • James is reputed to be a pillar in the Jerusalem church
  • James has authority in the Jerusalem church
  • Paul highlights his meeting with him
  • James received a vision of the resurrected Jesus
  • Paul mentions his name before Peter’s (Cephas’s)
  • later traditions said he was a brother of Jesus
  • how else can we explain the above unless this James was a brother of Jesus?

“Solid evidence”? No other explanation is plausible than that James must have been a literal sibling of Jesus?

Regardless of the status of Richard Carrier’s specific arguments why not consider the question in the light of all the relevant “background information” as I have attempted to do in Thinking through the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19

Carrier, Richard. 2014. On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.

Gullotta, Daniel N. 2017. “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts.” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15 (2–3): 310–46.



What If James Really Were “the Brother of the Lord”?

by Neil Godfrey

Since posting the following I have pointed to another detail that gives further reason to pause before assuming Lord = Jesus in Galatians.

Galatians 1:19

but I saw none other of the apostles, but James the brother of the Lord.

Fear not. I will not here repeat the arguments that James was/was not the brother of Jesus. I have been through them often enough.

Here I will do nothing more than share a little datum that stubbed my toe as I was wandering through yet another tangent on another question. It returns us possibly to the very time period Paul is thought to have written his letter to the Galatians.

Many of us with an interest in the question know how often people cite that passage, without a second thought, as “James the brother of Jesus”. Who else could the Lord be?

So I was pulled up when I learned that such an unconscious bias is not limited to that one passage. In a scholarly study on another early Christian piece of writing, one that some scholars even consider to be possibly contemporary with the writings of Paul, the Didache, there is this footnote on the Didache’s use of the term “Lord God”:

Niederwimmer judges that “the Lord God” would have been intended in the original Jewish context but that here it refers to the “Lord Jesus” (Didache, 105). This demonstrates that even seasoned scholars can unknowingly transport into the Didache their bias in favor of identifying Jesus as Lord. They acquire this bias in studying Paul and in participating in Christian piety. It is difficult for them, accordingly, to imagine how the Didache can be true to Jesus while absolutely being centered upon the presence, the purposes, and the saving grace of the Father. Niederwimmer refers to the “original Jewish context” without even for a moment reflecting that Jesus himself and the movement he left behind were solidly rooted within a Jewish context.

Milavec, Aaron. 2015. “The Distress Signals of Didache Research: Quest for a Viable Future.” In The Didache: A Missing Piece of the Puzzle in Early Christianity, edited by Jonathan A. Draper and Clayton N. Jefford, 59–83. Atlanta: SBL Press. pp. 72f

Milavec reminds us that Jesus himself is said to have taught others to anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of God, that is, the God of the “Old Testament” where are found numerous prophecies that God himself, the one we might think of as the Father, was to descend to establish his rule on earth. Accordingly, we should keep in mind that Jesus’ earliest followers understood his references to Lord as references to the God he called Father.

It may sound a bit over the top to think that anyone would suggest James could be given a religious title associating him as something more than another “Friend of God” (as other biblical figures were known to be) but then again there is so much we don’t know about that early period. Among those who bequeathed to us the Gospel of Thomas James was said by Jesus to be the very person for whom heaven and earth came into being (GThom 12) — whatever that means. (Not to mention that in the second chapter of the same letter to Galatians Paul expresses his failure to be impressed by the status of James in the church and documents James representing a form of Christianity that he himself opposed.)

I’m not arguing that “brother of the Lord” definitely refers to God rather than Jesus. I am saying we have reasons not to be dogmatic and to always be willing to question our assumptions.

See also comment below: Milavec points out that it would have been blasphemous among those outside Paul’s followers to have called Jesus Lord.



Thinking through the “James, the brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19

by Neil Godfrey

Some time ago I was attempting to think through the pros and cons surrounding the disputed claims over the significance and meaning of James being described as the brother of the Lord in Paul’s letter to Galatians. I set out the various factors in a discussion of Bayesian probability. But since Bayesian analysis is a scary phrase for some people I have extracted the different pros and cons from that post and set them out here for reference purposes. Being lifted from the original post, some of the points appear here to be in no particular order.

Before I do let’s have a look at another quotation from a historian:

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

That was the kind of thinking that led to the following list of pros and cons. I’m not interested in dogmatically proof-texting any argument like an apologist. I am interested in attempting to approach questions and evidence according to normative historical principles.


How typical would it have been to identify someone as a brother of the Lord?

1. According to the Gospels Jesus did have a brother named James.

2. Now if in Galatians we read that “James [was] the brother of Jesus” then, of course, we would all agree that such a phrase points to a sibling relationship.

3. But we do have many instances where “brother” is used of Christians and in Hebrews Jesus speaks of having many brethren.

4. “Lord” is a religious title, not a personal name, so there is some small room for “brother of the Lord” being used in a spiritual or non-familial sense.

5. We know of no other instances of people in this context being called the “brother of a spiritual Lord” (or God) so this reduces the chances that Paul was saying James was the brother of the spiritual Lord.

6. But we also have another tradition that Jesus had no siblings at all. So how can that little detail be explained if it were known that James had been the brother of Jesus?

7. We also have information that James was reputed to have been a renowned leader of the Jerusalem church, and his relationship with God was so close that he was known as old ‘camel-knees’, a repetitive strain injury/side-effect from overmuch praying. Our interest is in the likelihood of such a phrase in this context being an indicator that James and Jesus were siblings. So if James were such an unusually holy man then maybe there is some plausibility in the idea that he was known as a special “brother of the (spiritual) Lord”.

8. Another circumstance we do know was common enough in ancient times was the tendency for copyists to edit works, usually by adding the odd word or phrase or more. Sometimes this was entered as a gloss in the margin by way of commentary, with a subsequent copyist incorporating that gloss into the main body of the text. That’s a possibility, too, given what we know of both Christian and “pagan” texts.

9. Given what we know about the evolution of texts, the alterations to manuscripts and so on, it is by no means sure how secure any wording, especially a slight one, in a New Testament text should be considered which is far removed from the original letter of Paul. How can a decision be made about key questions based on this inherent degree of uncertainty, an uncertainty justified by the general instability of the textual record visible in the manuscripts we do have? And yet arguments are formulated on such slender reeds all the time.

10. On the other side of the ledger we have the likelihood that if Jesus were known as a Son of David then it is reasonable to imagine that his royal heir would be his next-in-line brother, probably James. So “brother of the Lord” may not be such an unusual way to describe him in the letter.


How likely or expected is the evidence we have if James really were the brother of the Lord? read more »


James the Brother of the Lord and James the Theologian of the Matrix

by Neil Godfrey

In his crusading zeal to slash and burn mythicism James McGrath is demonstrating once more his unfortunate lack of awareness of the actual content mythicist arguments and has done his readers a more general disservice by misrepresenting the nature of mainstream arguments on how various interpolations have worked their way into manuscript traditions.

Somehow a discussion on the authenticity of Galatians 1:19 (Paul meeting James “the Brother of the Lord”) in A misinformed comment so impressed the professor that he made a special post of it titled Interpolation Mythicism.

Somehow the only argument for interpolation that I am aware of is not addressed from what I have seen of the discussion. The evidence for interpolation is not rock solidly indisputable but it is suggestive: See James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation. There is evidence, as noted in this post, that the passage “brother of the Lord” was not original but a later copyists insertion.

And the evidence is of the sort that is used by mainstream scholars to argue for other cases of possible interpolation.

And the argument in this case is actually noted by someone arguing against mythicism.

And most mythicist arguments of which I am aware simply note that there is no mention of Jesus in the phrase and that the expression was has other known referents.

(Readers wondering why I have not made these points on McGrath’s blog should be aware that McGrath will not tolerate any comments from me on his blog.)

Interestingly James McGrath has “World Table” terms of service add-on for his blog comments. Conditions are most noble. I would be good to see James the Theologian practice them whenever he decides to address mythicism. read more »


Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test

by Neil Godfrey
spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Auton...
spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Autonomy in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw none of the other apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. — Galatians 1:19

On this verse some hang their strongest assurance that Jesus himself was an historical figure. Paul says he met James, the brother of the Lord (assumed to be Jesus), so that is absolute proof that Jesus existed. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable conclusion. So reasonable, in fact, that some quickly denounce as perverse cranks any who deny this “obvious meaning”.

But should historians be content with this? Is it being “hyper-sceptical” to question this explanation?

We need to keep in mind some fundamental principles of historical research and explanations from the professional historians themselves. Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Since I am currently reading and reviewing Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus I am taking time out in this post to see what happens if I test this “obvious” interpretation of Galatians 1:19 by means of Bayesian principles. Carrier argues that Bayes’ Theorem is nothing more than a mathematical presentation or demonstration of what goes on inside our heads when we are reasoning about any hypothesis correctly. So let’s try it out on the conclusions we draw from Galatians 1:19.

The way it works is like this. (But keep in mind I am a complete novice with Bayes’ theorem. I am trying to learn it by trying to explain what I think I understand so far.) I see a verse in Paul’s letters that appears to have a simple explanation. I think of myself as a geologist looking at strata in a rock face and I think about all I know about strata and the evidence in front of me and with all that in mind I try to work out how that strata came to look the way it does. This verse is like that strata. My task is to test a hypothesis or explanation for how it came to be there and to appear as it does.

So the explanation, or hypothesis, that I decide to test is: That James, whom Paul meets according to this letter, was a sibling of Jesus. That’s my initial explanation for this verse, or in particular this phrase, “James the brother of the Lord”, being there.

It seems pretty straightforward, surely. This should be easy enough to confirm.

So let’s set it out in the theorem structure. read more »


James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation

by Neil Godfrey

Never throw out old books. I have caught up with my 1942 edition of Jesus Not A Myth by A. D. Howell Smith. The book is an argument against mythicism as it was argued by a range of authors in its day: J. M. Robertson, Thomas Whittacker, L. Gordon Rylands, Arthur Drews, Bergh van Eysinga, L. Couchoud, Edouard Dujardin and W. B. Smith. It’s a refreshing book for its professional spirit and respectful tone, and for its acknowledgement of both weaknesses and strengths of the mythicist case.

Here are two excerpts from the discussion concerning the question of the Galatians 1:19 reference to James the brother of the Lord. Pages 76 and 77/8. Keep in mind that the author is arguing against mythicism and for the historicity of Jesus. He not only acknowledges the possibility of interpolation, but goes on to explain a possible motive for it. I have marked the argument for interpolation in bold type. read more »


James Brother of the Lord, Porky Pies and Problems for the Historical Jesus Hypothesis

by Neil Godfrey

A good reason to accept the theory of evolution is that it predicts what we will find in the fossil record and its predictions have not yet failed. No one has found a rabbit fossil in pre-Cambrian rocks.

If James had been a sibling of Jesus and a leader in the Jerusalem church (along with Peter and John), then we can expect to find certain indicators of this in certain kinds of evidence. If our reasonable expectations (predictions) fail, then we have an obligation to reconsider our earlier conclusions that led to our expectations.

Dr James McGrath demonstrates an unfortunate oversight of this fundamental principle (and also shows a taste for porky pies) when he writes:

It is entertaining to watch mythicists, who claim to be guided by the principle that the epistles are earlier and more reliable, while the later Gospels essentially turned a mythical Christ into a historical figure, jettison that supposed principle whenever it becomes inconvenient. When evidence of a historical Jesus is highlighted in the epistles, they will appeal to Acts, or epistles likely to be later forgeries, in an attempt to avoid the clear meaning of Paul’s reference to James as Jesus’ brother.

Mainstream historical scholarship can be discussed in terms of whether it’s conclusions are justified upon the basis of its methods. Or one can discuss whether the methods themselves are valid. In the case of mythicism, neither is possible, because it has no consistent methods and no conclusions, just foreordained outcomes and the use of any tools selectively that will allow one to reach them.

Or to put it simpler still, why do you trust Acts to indicate what Paul meant by “James” yet reject it when it comes to what Paul meant by “Jesus”?

Firstly, James McGrath knows very well that Earl Doherty at no point based his interpretation of Galatians 1:19 on the evidence of later epistles or Acts. Some readers might even be excused for suspecting McGrath is being a bald-faced friar, so he might like to write a clarification of this comment to dispel any suggestion that he is telling an outright porky about Doherty’s argument. read more »


Applying Sound Historical Methodology to “James the Brother of the Lord”

by Neil Godfrey

It is easy for both historicists and mythicists to to descend to shallow proof-texting when arguing over the significance of Paul’s reference to James, the brother of the Lord, as evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

I am not attempting here in this post to cover all the arguments. I only want to address the necessity for a broad approach to the question and to rescue it from the tendency to reduce it to a simplistic positive/negative point.

Galatians 1:19

I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Amen! The dangers of personal selection of evidence in historical Jesus research are spotlighted by each reconstructed “historical Jesus” being in some recognizable image of its author.

Jesus historicists are particularly guilty of falling into the trap of “beginners” that Elton warns against when responding to mythicist arguments. Of course they know better when engaging in professional work among their peers. They generally avoid taking mythicist arguments seriously, and this is why they respond like amateurs. read more »


When did James the brother of the lord become James the brother of Jesus?

by Neil Godfrey

Some interesting thoughts on this question have been raised on a recent FRDB discussion.


Addressing James McGrath’s Arguments Against Mythicism — 1

by Neil Godfrey

I’m travelling again so am pulling out the occasional post I’ve had in store for such times. If circumstances do not permit some of my planned posts I’ll post another one of these.

McGrath would appeal to the variables shaping “cultural memory” and theological tendentiousness and the tradition of Jewish authors rewriting “Old Testament” scriptures; the mythicists would appeal to one less hypothesis . . .

It’s been a while since I addressed James McGrath’s critical responses to mythicism so I will try to make amends. Please, only courteous and civil responses will be acceptable in the comments. I bent over backwards to make the peace with James McGrath a few years ago and I would still like to keep that possibility open. I like to hope that he will respond to my posts in a reciprocal spirit.

About three months ago McGrath engaged in discussions on Bob Seidensticker’s Cross Examined blog and presented the following list to enable readers to get a grasp of his reasons for objecting to mythicism. He listed only the urls but I have added the titles, too.

I’ve been blogging and writing elsewhere about this [i.e. mythicism] for many years. Here are a few samples in case they are helpful.

1. “Minimalism, Mythicism and Modernism”

I will address each one in chronological order. So we start with

Here McGrath quotes a portion of an article (the second last sentence) by Ronald Hendel and claims its relevance not only for “minimalists/maximalists” but for “mythicists and other modernists”. Minimalists refers to scholars who question the historicity of “biblical Israel”, believing the archaeological evidence must always trump the literary, and that archaeologists working in Palestine have not found evidence for

  • an exodus of Israelites from Egypt;
  • an invasion of Canaan by Israelites from the wilderness;
  • for a united kingdom of Israel and Judah under David and Solomon;
  • parallel kingdoms of Israel and Judah existing side by side up until the Assyrian conquest of Samaria;
  • monotheistic worship of Yahweh until after the Persians established the colony of Jehud.

Maximalists, on the other hand, are generally said to trust the Biblical narratives unless they have good reasons to doubt them, and that there was some sort of Exodus behind the biblical story, a united kingdom under David, and some sort of historical reality behind the biblical account.

McGrath also refers to “modernists” but I will leave aside that side of his criticism because I am not sure what the term covers or how it is relevant to “mythicism”. (Hendel refers without elaboration to a dichotomy of “post modernists / modernists” in the last sentence.) McGrath introduces Hendel’s words with:

The idea that we are either going to precisely reconstruct the past, or conversely decisively disprove traditional views about it, without room for doubt or error, reflect the approach of a bygone era.

A very bygone era, indeed. I don’t know when modern historical studies have ever claimed to be able to establish “precise reconstructions …. without room for doubt or error”. Even our “father of modern history”, Leopold von Ranke, said that the most he hoped to be able to “reconstruct” was how a time and event “essentially was” — not how it was precisely and infallibly in all respects. I would be interested to know the specific scholars McGrath has in mind.

At this point I question the relevance of this introduction for the minimalist/maximalist debate as much as for mythicists. I don’t think either maximalist Albright or minimalist Thompson would claim to offer readers a precise reconstruction of the past without room for doubt or error. Nor do I know of any mythicist who seriously engages with the academic works of biblical scholars (e.g. Brodie, Doherty, the early Wells, Price, Carrier . . . ) who makes dogmatic claims about precise reconstructions of the past. All, from my reading at least, appeal to the weight of probabilities. I am open to correction, of course, but preferably from James McGrath’s own reading of mythicists.

I will leap to the conclusion of McGrath’s post because it is there that he targets mythicism directly: read more »


Reply to James McGrath’s Criticism of Bayes’s Theorem in the Jesus Mythicism Debate

by Neil Godfrey
Aviezer Tucker

James McGrath in a recent post, Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie, made the following criticism of the use of Bayes’s theorem in the Jesus Mythicism debate:

. . . . as I was reminded of the problematic case that Richard Carrier has made for incorporating mathematical probability (and more specifically a Bayesian approach) into historical methods. . . .

If one followed Carrier’s logic, each bit of evidence of untruth would diminish the evidence for truth, and each bit of evidence that is compatible with the non-historicity of Jesus diminishes the case for his historicity.

The logic of this argument is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of historical inquiry and how a historian is expected to apply Bayesian logic. (It also misconstrues Carrier’s argument but that is another question. I want only to focus on a correct understanding of how a historian validly applies Bayesian reasoning.)

In support of my assertion that James McGrath’s criticism is misinformed I turn to a historian and philosopher of history, Aviezer Tucker (see also here and here), author of Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography. He treats Bayesian reasoning by historical researchers in depth in chapter three. I quote a section from that chapter (with my own formatting):

There have been attempts to use the full Bayesian formula to evaluate hypotheses about the past, for example, whether miracles happened or not (Earman, 2000, pp. 53–9).

We may compare McGrath’s criticism. He is of the impression that the Bayesian formula is used to evaluate the hypothesis that Jesus did exist. This is a common misunderstanding. If you are confused, continue to read.

Despite Earman’s correct criticism of Hume (1988), both ask the same full Bayesian question:

“What is the probability that a certain miracle happened, given the testimonies to that effect and our scientific background knowledge?”

We may compare McGrath’s criticism again. He is of the impression that the historian using Bayesian logic is asking what is the probability that Jesus existed, given the testimonies to that effect and our background knowledge. If you are still confused then you share McGrath’s misunderstanding of the nature of historical inquiry. So continue with Tucker:

But this is not the kind of question biblical critics and historians ask. They ask,

“What is the best explanation of this set of documents that tells of a miracle of a certain kind?”

The center of research is the explanation of the evidence, not whether or not a literal interpretation of the evidence corresponds with what took place.

(Tucker, p. 99)

In other words, biblical critics and historians ask (Tucker is assuming the biblical critic and historian is using Bayesian logic validly and with a correct understand of the true nature of historical research) what is the best explanation for a document that, say, purports to be by Paul saying he met the James, “the brother of the Lord”.

I use that particular example because — and someone correct me if I am mistaken — Jame McGrath and others believe that passage (Galatians 1:19) makes any questioning of the historicity of Jesus an act of “denialism”. (McGrath does not tell his readers in the post we are addressing what he has in mind as the “clear-cut” evidence for the historicity of Jesus but from previous posts and comments I am convinced that it is the “brother of the Lord” passage in Galatians 1:19 that he has in mind. If I am wrong then someone will no doubt inform me.)

No one, I am sure, would mean to infer that the late and highly respected Philip R. Davies was guilty of denialism when he suggested that the historical methods he applied to the Old Testament should also be applied to the New — a method I have sought to apply to the study of Christian origins ever since I read Davies’ groundbreaking book.

Back to the question. It is the question of what is the best explanation for the passage in our version of Galatians that I have attempted to address several times now.

That is the question that the historian needs to ask. Every decent book I have read for students about to undertake advanced historical studies has stressed, among many other duties, the necessity for the researcher to question the provenance, the authenticity, of the documents he or she is using, and to know all the questions related to such questions from a thorough investigation of the entire field. My several posts have attempted to introduce such questions that should be basic to any historical study.

Tucker, from my reading of his book, would not consider such an exercise to be “denialism”, but sound and fundamental historical method — and even sound biblical criticism. read more »


The never-ending “brother of the lord” proof for the historical existence of Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

James McGrath has posted that it is time to return to the Jesus mythicism question. He writes:

It’s time to return once again to the subject of Jesus mythicism, the stance that denies the overwhelming consensus of professional historians and scholars that there most likely was indeed a historical Jesus of Nazareth.

Translated, that means it is “time to return to addressing those who question the conventional wisdom bequeathed to us from our society’s Christian heritage.” The use of the word “consensus” makes it sound as if the belief in the the historicity of Jesus is a position arrived at by serious research on the part of all those “professional historians and scholars”. But we know that is not the case because Bart Ehrman let a terrible secret out of the bag when he wrote:

Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it . . . 

I also find the phrase “most likely” confusing in the context. “Most likely” suggests to me that there is some room for doubt, however slim. The words suggest something short of “definitely” or “without doubt”. Yet the very suggestion of any doubt at all is what appears to offend McGrath.

Another framing word in his introduction is “denies’. That word allows him to follow up with “denialist” to characterize sympathy with the mythicist argument. Denialism suggests irrational stances and is hardly a fitting word to be used of scholarly disagreements. Would not the word “disagrees” be more appropriate and accurate?

Next, McGrath comes to the immediate point of his pot:

Evidence about his brother James (Jacob) is an important factor in historical reasoning on this subject.

By adding Jacob in parenthesis beside the name James indicates to the reader that the author is aware of subtleties in the primary sources and so is presenting a scholarly argument.

But what follows is a quotation by someone who regularly demonstrates a lack of awareness of the fundamentals of methods of historical research and who routinely uses personal insults to smokescreen the weaknesses and fallacious nature of some of his arguments.

The post to which McGrath directs readers rests on the most fundamental errors of historical research. Its author, Tim O’Neill, simply assumes that the letter to the Galatians that he sees before him is just what a mid-century Paul originally wrote. To raise the well known fact that textual variants were the norm for ancient letters, especially Paul’s, and that there is indeed evidence that points to the possibility that Paul did not write those words.

After more loaded language and ad hominem aspersions against mythicists (they are too predictable and too numerous to bother discussing one by one here) McGrath does actually say something that I fully agree with:

Each piece of evidence needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And the fact that some evidence does not confirm something should never be treated as undermining what the positive evidence shows.


Unfortunately, McGrath appears to be so committed to the historicity of the central person of his own religious faith that he can allow no room whatever for any suggestion of doubt. That one piece of “evidence” (I would call it “data” waiting to be interpreted to see whether or not it is evidence for or against a proposition) appears to be all he needs to establish not merely “most likely” but that there “definitely without any shadow of doubt” was a historical Jesus.

If you know my sibling and they mentioned me, but you have also heard a number of improbable things about me (whether that my parents won the lottery just in time to pay the medical bills after I was born, that I have been interviewed by MTV News and E! Online, or that I have a tenure track position at a university), the latter details should not be evaluated as reasons to doubt my historicity. This sort of probability calculation may be appropriate to figuring out the likelihood that some individual in theory would happen to have my unique combination of characteristics. But once my existence is established, even ludicrous claims that turn out to be false do not make my existence less likely.

I have bolded and italicized the last words. Here McGrath contradicts his opening claim in which he indicated that the historicity of Jesus was the “most likely” explanation to account for the data. Rather, he concludes by saying that there is nothing that could make the existence of a person any “less likely” once it has been established by the meeting of one known to be the person’s sibling. That sounds to me as though he takes Galatians 1:19 as definitely, unequivocally, establishing the historicity of Jesus.

I think at this point it is time to examine each piece of evidence and evaluate it on its own merits. And that means going back to the most fundamental rules of assessing the nature of the documents we have and the totality of data that bears upon the question. That’s what I have tried to do in my post Does “Brother of the Lord” settle the Jesus myth question?



Does “Brother of the Lord” settle the Jesus myth question?

by Neil Godfrey

On another forum I recently posted a discussion of the passage in Galatians where Paul says he met James, “the brother of the Lord”, setting out why I believe the passage is not necessarily the “slam dunk” that many say it is to prove Jesus was a historical figure. I have other posts on other topics I want to do for Vridar but till I can sort those out I will double up and copy here what I posted on AFA.

Part 1

A passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is often touted as irrefutable proof that Jesus was a historical figure:

1:18 Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him for fifteen days; 19 But I saw no other of the Apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 And the things I write to you— see!— before God, I am not lying.
(Hart’s translation)

All manuscripts of Galatians agree that James is said to be “the Lord’s brother”. No exceptions.

If Paul met James who was recognized as the Lord’s brother then obviously the Lord’s brother was a real person. And for good reason “the Lord” is generally assumed to refer to Jesus.

It is obvious, then, that Jesus existed.

Some have tried to object on the following grounds:

1. Paul often speaks of all Christians as “brothers” and “sisters” so in Galatians 1:19 he is simply singling out James as a Christian for some reason.


2. The Lord more commonly refers to God. Therefore “the brother of the Lord” is really some sort of spiritual title. Even if “Lord” did refer to Jesus the phrase was still a spiritual title that described an inner group of leaders or elites in the assembly.

Therefore, it is argued, Galatians 1:19 does not prove the historicity of Jesus.

Those objections are objected to, however:

1. It makes no sense to call James “the brother of the Lord” if that simply meant to point out he was a Christian like all other “brothers and sisters”. The context alone tells us James was a Christian. But so was Cephas (= Peter) whom Paul also met.

2. There is no evidence that an inner group known as “the brothers of the Lord” existed in the early church or that “brother of the Lord” was used as a title for anyone.

I think those objections are sound. (They are possible, but I think more evidence is needed to establish either one as a completely satisfactory alternative to the mainstream view that the passage is telling us that James was the biological brother of Jesus.)

So, then, we are left with a letter by Paul indicating that one of the three great leaders (Paul says they were reputed to be “pillars”) of the Jerusalem church was named James who was the sibling of Jesus.

But that’s where our problems start. read more »


The Function of “Brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19

by Tim Widowfield
James the Just
James the Just

It seems hardly a month passes without somebody on Vridar bringing up Galatians 1:19, in which Paul refers to James as the “brother of the Lord.” Recently I ran a search for the phrase here, and after reading each post, it struck me how much time we’ve spent wondering what it means and so little time asking why it’s there in the first place.

What is the function of “brother of the Lord” in that sentence? Notice we can ask this question without raising the hackles of either the mythicists or historicists. Forget what it might mean. Forget (at least for the moment) who you think wrote it. It could have been Paul. It might have been the very first reader who added it as a marginal note or a scribe at some point along the transmission path. Instead, let’s ask why.

It would appear on the surface, at least, that “brother of the Lord” is a kind of descriptor. In other words, it tells us which James Paul met. Since 1:19 is the first time Paul mentions James in Galatians, perhaps that’s why we see it here. But then why didn’t Paul do the same thing in 1 Corinthians, which he probably wrote in the same year?

1 Cor 15:7  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. (ESV)

One could argue that since he’d already referred to “the twelve” in 1 Cor 15:5, Paul didn’t need to explain which James he meant. In fact, he may have been reciting an early resurrection credo, and as such everyone would already have known who all the characters were — Cephas, the Twelve, the 500 brothers. They needed no introduction, so to speak.

Which James?

On the other hand, one could argue that in Galatians Paul could only have meant one James. He was, after all, starting an extended tirade against the Jerusalem pillars, and his Galatian audience would surely have known who he meant. He probably told that story all the time — “Then James sends a bunch of his thugs up to Antioch, and old Cephas is like, ‘I’m not eating with those Gentiles. No way!'” read more »