Category Archives: Brother of the Lord

What if James really were “the brother of the Lord”?

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.


That one piece of solid evidence that weighs strongly in favour of historicity…..

[A]ll we need for the case for the historicity of Jesus to be solid is some evidence that weighs strongly in favor of his historicity. And we have it, and so in theory, mythicism should simply vanish. But as with all forms of denialism, it will persist regardless of the evidence.

— McGrath, Jesus Mythicism: Two Truths and a Lie

There was some question in the comments of my initial response as to what that solid evidence was that James McGrath had in mind. I responded as if he were addressing Paul’s claim to have met James “the brother of the Lord” — both here and again here.

McGrath has since made it clear:

But the point remains: if we have an authentic letter from someone who met an individual’s brother, and we judge that individual’s historicity probable on that basis, the addition of spurious information does not diminish the likelihood that the letter-writer met the brother of that individual and thus was in a position to know whether they were historical or not. If everything else they learned about that individual was pure fabrication, it would diminish the historical accuracy of their portrait of him, but it would not diminish the likelihood of the individual’s historicity.

I’m not going to repeat the points I have made before about the problems with detail after detail in Carrier’s argument (such as when he treats the common name Joshua/Jesus as though it were a too-convenient name for a savior god – begging the question by casting Jesus as a god and not a human being as Davidic anointed ones were expected to be). Let ms simply conclude by quoting what Carrier says on p.337 of his book that I supposedly have not read: “Obviously, if Jesus Christ had a brother, then Jesus Christ existed.”

— McGrath, Mythicist  Math

That would indeed be strong evidence if in fact Paul did meet “James the brother of the Lord” and it would end any debate over mythicism.

But even Philip R. Davies recognized the evidence is not so simple:

I don’t think, however, that in another 20 years there will be a consensus that Jesus did not exist, or even possibly didn’t exist, but a recognition that his existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability. In the first place, what does it mean to affirm that ‘Jesus existed’, anyway, when so many different Jesuses are displayed for us by the ancient sources and modern NT scholars? Logically, some of these Jesuses cannot have existed. So in asserting historicity, it is necessary to define which ones (rabbi, prophet, sage, shaman, revolutionary leader, etc.) are being affirmed—and thus which ones deemed unhistorical. In fact, as things stand, what is being affirmed as the Jesus of history is a cipher, not a rounded personality (the same is true of the King David of the Hebrew Bible, as a number of recent ‘biographies’ show).

So is it sheer “denialism” that prevents some of us from accepting the “solid evidence” of Paul’s encounter?

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). 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?” 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, Our Knowledge of the Past, p. 99

And it goes exactly the same way for the testimony that we read in Galatians 1:19. No, it is not simply dismissing uncomfortable passages as interpolations. It is about exercising responsible historical criticism and testing of the evidence as all sound historical method requires. The alternative is naive apologetics or uncritically furthering tradition. There are indeed reasonable grounds for doubting that that verse was known to anyone before the third century. There are also reasons to doubt that anyone had any idea that James, a brother of the Lord, was indeed a leader of the Jerusalem church until the third century. There are good reasons to suspect the passage was introduced to serve the interests of an emerging “orthodoxy” against certain “heresies”. See the posts in the Brother of the Lord archive for more detail.


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

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

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?

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 »

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

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 »

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

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 »

Hoffmann: James was NOT the biological brother of Jesus

Steven Carr has drawn our attention to Dr R. Joseph Hoffmann’s argument that Paul’s reference in Galatians 1:19 to “James, the brother of the Lord”, was clearly not meant to be understood by Paul as an indicator that James was the biological brother of Jesus. He wrote in The Jesus Tomb Debacle: RIP:

The James who is head of the church in Jerusalem is not a biological brother of Jesus. Later but inconsistent gospel references to James are muddled reminiscences based on the more prominent James of the Pauline tradition.

The Jesus Process (c) member and scholar Stephanie Fisher has just come out and publicly affirmed the solid scholarly foundation on which Dr Hoffmann’s conclusion that James was NOT the biological brother of Jesus are based:

Joe’s conclusions are based on evidence and argument

I would have been inclined to have suspected Hoffmann has since come to regret his earlier post but we are assured by his fellow member of  The Jesus Process (c)  that there is nothing about Hoffmann’s case that is not based on “evidence and argument” — presumably meaning “valid” argument.

Dr Hoffmann also informs us that his conclusions have the support of other New Testament scholars. He does not name these other scholars, presumably because they are so numerous and well-known among his intended scholarly readership that singling any names would have been superfluous. He writes: read more »

20. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 20


The Brother of the Lord



  • brother of the Lord
  • the meaning of “brother” in the epistles
  • brethren of a sect?
  • plain meanings
  • apologist objections:
    • who is “the Lord”?
    • battle of the prepositions
  • question begging as methodology
  • why not “brother of Jesus”?
  • or “brothers of Jesus”?
  • separating Cephas and James
  • G. A. Wells: a Jewish messianic group?
  • more grammar: genitive vs dative
  • Josephus’ James
  • Ehrman on Robert Price
  • “brother of the Lord” as a marginal gloss
  • question begging as methodology: Ehrman as beggar


* * * * *

Paul’s Associations

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 145-156)


English: James the Just, Lord´s brother. Russi...

In his 5th chapter (approximately halfway through the book), Ehrman says he will “wrap up” his discussion of the historical evidence for Jesus by putting forward two points, two pieces of “Key Data” which confer a “high degree of certainty that (Jesus) was an historical figure.”

The first of these is a favorite of apologists everywhere, because it is so straightforward, so plain. No complex study of a text is required, no knowledge about ancient philosophy or obscure languages is necessary. We merely need to bring an obvious meaning to a five-word phrase, a phrase that is simple even in the original Greek where it is only four words, prefaced by a man’s name: “Iakōbon ton adelphon tou kuriou”:

James, the brother of the Lord

What could be simpler? We ‘know’ from the Gospels that Jesus had a brother named James. Here Paul is declaring that when he visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion to get to know Cephas, he also saw “James, the brother of the Lord” (Galatians 1:19). How could Jesus have had a brother if he had not lived on earth? Can mythicists not read?

Fortunately, we can. We can read a host of other appearances of the word “brother” (adelphos) in the epistles. Here are a few:

Rom. 16:23 – Greetings also from . . . our brother Quartus.

1 Cor. 1:1 – Paul . . . and our brother Sosthenes

1 Cor. 5:11 – you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is immoral or greedy . . .

1 Cor. 7:12 – If any brother has an unbelieving wife . . .

1 Cor. 8:13 – If food causes my brother to stumble . . . I will not cause my brother to fall.

1 Cor. 16:11-12 – I am expecting (Timothy) along with the brothers. As for brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers.

2 Cor. 2:13 – . . . because I did not find my brother Titus there.

2 Cor. 8:18 – We are sending with him the brother who is praised by all the churches . . .

Phil. 2:25 – . . . to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker . . .

Col. 4:7 – (Tychicus) is a dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord.

1 Thes. 3:2 – Timothy, our brother and fellow-worker of God in the gospel of Christ.

1 Tim. 3:15 – Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

1 Pet. 5:12 – Silvanus, the faithful brother . . .

2 Pet. 3:15 – Paul, our friend and brother . . .

Rev. 1:9 – I, John, your brother, who share with you . . .

Brethren of a sect

All of these refer unmistakeably to men who are members of the sect (and there are a handful of occurrences of the word “sister” referring unmistakeably to a female member of the sect). The above amount to 14 out of a total of over 40 in the epistles.

In addition, there are about a dozen which, while ambiguously worded, are also virtually certain to be meant as members of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 6:6 – Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers [brothers], but one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers?

James 2:15 – If a brother or a sister is in rags with not enough food for the day . . .

James 4:11 – He who disparages a brother or passes judgment on his brother disparages the law and judges the law.

1 Jn 2:9 – Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.

1 Jn 3:10-11 – No one who does not do right is God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love his brother. The latter means a member of sect, since: For the message you have heard from the beginning is this: that we should love one another.

And that’s just in the singular. References to “brothers” in the plural also abound in the dozens, with a clear meaning of “brethren” of the sect, such as:

1 Cor. 15:6 – Then he was seen by over five hundred brothers at once.

Heb. 2:11 – . . . for which reason, he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call (the ones made holy, i.e., believers) his brothers.

1 Pet. 5:9 – You know that our brotherhood throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And at this point we need to note the reference in 1 Corinthians 9:5 to “the brothers of the Lord” which is regularly paired with Galatians 1:19 as allegedly referring to siblings of Jesus.

Plain meanings

In the singular, I have been able to locate in the epistles and Revelation only two usages of the word “brother” having the clear meaning of “sibling”: a reference in 1 John to Cain as the murderer of his brother Abel, and the ascription heading the epistle of Jude: “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James.” In the plural there is technically one, in 1 Timothy 5:2. As far as the world of the epistle writers is concerned, a “plain meaning” of “brother” equals the sense of “brethren” in a religious group; it is at least as natural as the sense of sibling. We in the 21st century rarely employ that sense, so to impose our idea of ‘plain meaning’ on theirs is an unjustified anachronism.


But the apologist objects: “Your examples don’t refer to any of these ‘brothers’ in relation to Jesus!” read more »

18. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.18


The Pauline Epistles – Part One



  • Born of woman, born under the Law: authentic to Paul?
  • Jesus ministering to the Jews
  • a “missing equation”: Paul’s Christ = the Gospel Jesus
  • Romans 1:3 – “of David’s seed kata sarka
  • “brother(s) of the Lord”: a preliminary look
  • “the twelve”
  • Paul’s “Lord’s Supper” a revelation
  • “betrayed” or “handed over” by God?
  • “at night”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16: “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus”


* * * * *

The Witness of Paul

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 117-125)


I would like to think that Bart Ehrman could at least have provided a few new insights, some new arguments to explain the silence in Paul on an historical Jesus (and by extension in all the other epistle writers). But once again he disappoints the hungry historicist. This is the same old stale table fare, and it provides no nourishment for those starved of healthy evidence that Paul knew an historical Jesus.

By way of introduction to his ‘evidence,’ Ehrman appeals to the old bugaboo that mythicists are nothing more than interpolation experts, throwing out inconvenient passages right and left. Not only is this a vast exaggeration (certainly where I myself am concerned), he fails to grapple with mythicist arguments in favor of interpolation when they do occur.


Born of Woman?

The first Pauline passage Ehrman spotlights is one of those cases. Galatians 4:4 allegedly contained the phrase “born of woman, born under the Law.” While it is possible to interpret this in a mythicist context (see below and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, chapter 15, which discusses both the authentic and inauthentic options), I now believe interpolation to be the preferable choice. Ironically, Ehrman himself has given us some grounds to consider this.

In his (far superior) book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, he points out that in the manuscript record this phrase was a favorite for doctoring by later scribes, who changed the operative participle to supposedly better reflect a fully human Jesus in opposition to Gnostics who were claiming that Christ was docetic.

Taken with the fact that Tertullian seems to indicate that the phrase was lacking in Marcion’s version of Galatians, we are justified in suggesting that the phrase could earlier have been inserted in its entirety for the same purpose. It can also be demonstrated that the idea in the phrase itself serves no practical purpose in the passage. And it has been asked why Paul would have needed to make the obvious statement that an historical Jesus had been “born of woman.”

Ginomai” vs. “Gennaō”

On the authenticity side of the coin, for the word translated as “born” in regard to Jesus (including in Romans 1:3) Paul uses a different verb (ginomai) than that used for every other reference to anyone being born in the New Testament, including by Paul himself only a few paragraphs later, and for Jesus’ birth in the Gospels (gennaō and occasionally tiktō). What distinction requiring a different verb (one generally meaning “come/become” or “arise”) would Paul have had in mind for Jesus? Possibly a mythical ‘birth’ such as we see in Revelation 12, where the Messiah is born in the heavens to a woman “clothed with the sun”?

It is certainly true that he never tells us the name of this “woman.” Was he simply giving voice to the ‘prophecy’ in Isaiah 7:14 about a young woman about to bear a son, just as he seems to have done in calling Jesus “of David’s seed” on the basis of predictions in the prophets (Romans 1:2-3)? Did he have to understand any of it on a rational basis as long as it was to be found in scripture?

Either way, there is much reason to doubt the reliability of this phrase in Galatians 4:4 as a reference to an historical Jesus, and it hardly deserves to be characterized as simple mythicist interpolation mania. read more »

Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test

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 »

The First Signs of Christianity: Couchoud continued

Couchoud thought that John the Baptist epitomized and popularized the Jewish hopes for a coming Judge from Heaven — as shown in my previous post in this series (the entire series is archived here).

Christianity was born of the travail of the days of John. The Baptist gave it two talismans with which to bind souls:

  1. the advent of the Heavenly Man in a universal cataclysm,
  2. and the rite of baptism which allowed the initiates to await, without apprehension, the Coming of the Judge.

(p. 31, my formatting)

At first the teaching spread like wildfire but without John’s name attached to it as its IP owner.

Before long the teaching became enriched with various kinds of additions. First among these additions were new names for the Heavenly Man: Lord, Christ, Jesus.

Lord as a title was derived from Psalm 110:1

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou at my right hand,

Until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

To whom could this have been addressed? Surely not to the Messiah, the Son of David, waited for by the Pharisees. David would not have called his son “my Lord.” It must have been to the Son of Man who, according to the Revelation of Enoch, was placed on the throne of his glory by God Himself. (p. 31)

Since David as an inspired prophet makes it clear that the Son of Man is enthroned at the right hand of God and calls him Lord. So believers could also call the Son of Man their Lord.

(Note that the title “Son of Man” was used as a Greek expression, too. Think of Christianity as moulded very largely by Greek speakers.)

Christ, Christos, “is a somewhat barbarous translation of the Hebrew word which means consecrated by unction, Messiah.” read more »

Doherty answers McGrath and others (continuation of ch. 6 criticisms)

Earl Doherty has responded in detail to criticisms by James McGrath and others over chapter 6 of Jesus Neither God Nor Man. I have collated them in this post, and may add any future ones here, too. (Compare comments on my outline of chapter 6)

Updated 31st May 2011

Brother of the Lord

By now we are all familiar with how much historicists rely on Galatians 1:19 and its “brother of the Lord” to find an historical Jesus within the epistles. It’s one of a small handful of life preservers thrown into the waters to try to rescue Paul from drowning in a mythical sea. I would like to put an additional emphasis on one of the arguments I have used to poke holes in this particular preserver. I have pointed out that Philippians 1:14 uses a similar phrase to Galatians 1:19, namely “brothers in the Lord” (ton adelphon en kurio). This can hardly be taken any other way than meaning “fellow-believers in the Lord” and indicates the usage of a phrase to describe a group of sectarians Paul is acquainted with. The very fact that it is so similar to the Galatians phrase should be a strong argument that the latter is likely to have the same meaning. read more »

James Brother of the Lord: Another Case for Interpolation

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 »