Monday, July 12, 2010

On the Origin of Jesus Part 1: Paul

I have recently learned that the man largely responsible for the spread of Christianity in the first century, Paul, had no idea about the details of the Jesus story.
Paul was writing between the period of  50-60C.E.. The gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were not written till after Paul had died. The only accounts of Christianity during this period come from Paul. He never refers to Jesus as a literal human being who walked on the earth, which is strange to say the least. It seems that if someone called Jesus Christ (or of Nazareth etc.) had lived and walked on earth only a short while before Paul was writing, it seems that Paul didn't know about him. Paul never mentions Joseph or Mary, Bethlehem, Jesus' Baptism, Herod, the Census, Jesus going to Egypt, never quotes anything Jesus apparently said, doesn't reference any of the purported miracles Jesus performed, he never mentions that Jesus was ever a teacher, or that he had a ministry or had disciples. Paul doesn't mention the entrance into Jerusalem riding a donkey, the last supper, raising Lazarus from the dead, or the woman by the well. Paul doesn't even know about the betrayal of Judas, the trial before the Jewish high priest and Pilate, the beating inflicted upon Jesus by the Romans or even what Jesus said while on the cross.
Doesn't that seem a little strange?

Paul only ever mentions three details of what we consider to be the 'Jesus story'. The Crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Even then, Paul never mentions them in reference to being on earth, specifically in Israel. Paul's Jesus seemed to exist only in the spiritual realm, as he never writes about Jesus as ever existing as a human being on earth. This is an awfully dire situation to be in, considering Paul is the only link between the supposed life of Jesus, and the appearance of the first accounts of the life of Jesus.

EDIT: See comments below for the error I made (which has now been stuck-through). Pretty dumb mistake actually.


  1. The gospel of John wasn't apparently written until much later, around 85AD. You forget that back then almost everything was told through spoken word, and much emphasis was placed on the accuracy of it, so many stories were passed down throughout generations simply by word of mouth. It's not like somebody was sitting there as Jesus was preaching to the masses and all of a sudden stands up and says "Hold up a sec there Jesus, I missed that last sentence, can you give me a moment to just catch up coz I'm starting to fall behind here". Yeah right ... Anyway, I fail to see your point? Is not the whole salvation message based around the death and resurrection, rather than the fact as a baby he escaped homicide from a pissed off monarch?

  2. A lot may have been told through spoken word, but much was also recorded. There were several historians around that time, and the historians from the later decades, such has Josephus (Jewish) and Tacitus (Roman) only mention the Christians themselves, with no reference to a literal person by the name of Jesus Christ.
    I was primarily pointing out the very interesting fact that Paul never mentions anything about the life of Jesus, and everything we know about him was recorded Several years, and in the case of the gospel of John, decades after Paul had spread his version of Christianity. More interesting facts will be including in part 2.

  3. True, however as you also pointed out, Matthew, Mark & Luke weren't the only people who were around Jesus back in the day, so there's the very likely possibility that Paul heard more than just what we have today in the bible, yes?

  4. Matthew, Mark and Luke weren't eyewitnesses to Jesus. None of the New Testament authors ever met Jesus, none of them claimed to either.

  5. Matthew 9:9 is the Matthew who was eyewitness. Regardless of if the book was written by him or not (That's something many others have debated, I don't really care about it TBH), the Matthew who's story / account of events that the first Gospel was named after was most certainly there.

  6. Yes I believe it was named after the Matthew mentioned there.

  7. So if they were written *after* Pauls teachings (Specifically if as you mentioned they weren't the authors), then surely during that time there had to be people passing around the knowledge of those stories, yes? Somebody had to be telling them to keep them "alive" so to speak, yes? So it's not impossible to assume that if the stories are being "passed around" as was common-place in that day, that even if Paul didn't have a written document of the disciples accounts, he could quite possibly have heard more than just the Crucifixion story, yes? Again that's speculation, but you can see the logic behind it ;)

  8. I can see your reasoning.

    This is where it gets into rather sticky territory. Pauls writings are (by some margin) the earliest writings about the Christian religion. There is not really any evidence to suggest that the story we know about Jesus even existed in oral traditions until after Paul.

    You can see what I mean by sticky territory.

  9. Just to give you a heads up, I'll probably do 2-3 more posts in this series, talking about the gospels (including apocryphal gospels), the book of Acts, and previous mythological savior-deities.

  10. I enjoy this topic. Keen to see Part 2 and 3, etc.

    However I take issue with a few of your statements.

    Paul was writing between the period of 40-70AD

    This chap was born circa 5 AD and while his speculated writings might be dated from circa 40-70 AD this doesn't mean that he hadn't started writing anything down before he was 35. After all, his conversion took place circa 33-36 AD (Jesus death being circa 30 AD). Why would Paul wait around 4 years before starting to scribble down details about his new found zeal? Paul probably (not definitely) exercised an intermittent writing style in between his ministry and his seafaring.

    The only accounts of Christianity during this period come from Paul.

    The book of James, was possibly scribed before 62 AD, some even say before 45 AD. And there are also arguments that it was written closer to 100 AD. It all depends on whether it was this James or that James or whether it was a real James at all.

    2 Peter, dates range from 60 AD all the way to 160 AD.

    The page that is Jude, dates from 66 AD to 90 AD.

    He (Paul) never refers to Jesus as a literal human being who walked on the earth
    he never writes about Jesus as ever existing as a human being on earth.

    "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus...who as to his human nature was a descendant of David"
    -Romans 1:1,3

    it seems that Paul didn't know about him (Jesus)

    Just a strangely, illogical conclusion to make considering Paul, once aided by Ananias, spent several days with followers of Jesus in Damascus (according to Acts 9) before spending the rest of his life following the ways of Jesus.

    Paul doesn't mention...the last supper
    Paul doesn't even know about the betrayal of Judas

    "For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
    -1 Corinthians 11:23-26

    Paul never...quotes anything Jesus apparently said

    While he might not "quote" Jesus, he tends to speak on and have the same viewpoint on topics Jesus spoke. Numerous examples follow:
    -bearing spiritual fruit
    -not being ashamed of Jesus/the gospel
    -eternal life
    -not just 'knowing' what is right but living by it and doing what is right
    -practicing what you preach
    -not seeking praise, approval and glory from men but instead from God

    ...that's only similarities to gospel scripture found in the first 2 chapters of Romans. The list would be far too long and probably repetitive had I gone through all the Pauline epistles.

    Paul doesn't even know about...the trial before the Jewish high priest and Pilate, the beating inflicted upon Jesus by the Romans or even what Jesus said while on the cross.

    Another outrageous conclusion. "He did not write about these events, therefore he did not know about these events" = fallacious. The disciples of Damascus could have easily filled him in on such things in the timeframe he spent with them.

    None of the New Testament authors ever met Jesus

    While the authorship is still (and possibly always will be) in dispute about many New Testament books, this is also a fallacious statement to make.

  11. Ah it seems I had completely missed the last supper/Judas' betrayal passage. Thanks for the correction, I'll get back to a reply later.

  12. I'll just do a short reply on the dates of epistles and then address the rest later, I have some uni work to do.

    Generally accepted dates for:
    Jude 90-120
    James 70-100
    Peter 80-110 for 1 Peter 100-160 for 2nd Peter

    Here's a very well-sourced website with information and accepted date ranged of all the early christian writings at

    1. The linked site is an unauthorized use of my copyrighted content. You can find my website here.

      Early Christian Writings (

    2. I can't edit my posted comment, but I'll endorse your site here.

      Early Christian Writings

  13. I'm going to do quite a bit of digging on the book of Acts as it seems quite pivotal. It was written at the very least over a decade after Paul died, yet most of the information we have about Paul before he started writing is contained in it.

  14. Oh, and one more thing. The most conservative dates for Pauls epistles are around ~50 AD so my 40-70 was a bit off too, as they were mostly only 50-60.

  15. That is interesting. It seems the Almighty Wiki is greatly ill-informed on dates then. I hope this site is well sourced as it looks decidedly "rangi" haha.

  16. Very interesting! That site grants Mark an extra 5 years (65 AD) than Wiki (70 AD)

    Wouldn't things be easier if there was concensus on everything!

  17. AH! I just started doing some guitar practice and couldn't get it off my head how I had made just a blatant error with the last supper thing and reading over my initial notes (which are just brief scribblings) I figured out where the mistake came from

    from my notes: "Paul never mentions: [some other things which he doesn't mention], miracles wedding feast water wine etc., [more things he doesn't mention]"

    I had written down the wedding feast as a specific example of one of Jesus' 'miracles' and misread it as the last supper for some reason.

    Wikipedia for balance reasons often highlights some very conservative and very liberal dates. For James for example, it mentions the idea that it could have been before 45C.E. and been someone who was martyred then. This view is not very credible, neither is the view that it was written by the James who was called the brother of Jesus 'James the Just', for language/stylistic reasons, and also for content. In the epistle James, the author identifies himself as a follower of Christ, not as the brother of Christ.

  18. Your last paragraph I read on Wiki.

    My thoughts are that if it indeed was James brother of Jesus, that (similar to Jesus not taking his Godhood for granted) he might not have taken his brotherhood for granted/not deemed it something to brag about. Instead he takes the humble approach, classifying himself as "servant" or "follower" of Christ.

  19. From what I can tell though, he was generally referred to as 'James, the brother of Jesus' or 'of Christ' and so on. Just like Paul is referred to as Paul of Tarsus, or Jesus of Nazareth, or even Jesus Christ. So it wouldn't really make sense to not mention that just to clarify who was writing the letter. But anyway, that's not the only reason it's not attributed to him anyway, (as you must have read on Wiki too).

  20. I feel like the other reasons against a James the Just authorship (or at least dictating to a scribe) are rather weak though. At least the reasons Wiki gives are anyway.

  21. Have a read of the page on the Epistle of James on

    I think you'll find they have a much better explanation of why it isn't attributed to the brother of Jesus. Notably the last 2 paragraphs

    I may as well just paste them here.

    Norman Perrin offers the following comments on James (The New Testament: An Introduction, p. 255):

    James shows knowledge of parenetical tradition that uses sayings ascribed to Jesus in the gospels: 5:12 (compare Matt 5:36-37); 1:5, 17 (compare Matt 7:7-12); 1:22 (compare Matt 7:24-27); 4:12 (compare Matt 7:1); 1:6 (compare Mark 11:23-24). There is, further, parenetical material also used in 1 Peter: Jas 1:2-3 (compare 1 Peter 1:6-7); Jas 4:1-2 (compare 1 Pet 2:11). It is not that James necessarily knows the gospels or 1 Peter, but rather that there is a Christian parenetical tradition into which sayings ascribed to Jesus in the gospels have been taken up, although not in the form of sayings of Jesus, and of which both James and 1 Peter make use. . .

    Moral exhortation is very much the same throughout the various elements in a given culture. By the same token parenesis itself has little doctrinal concern, and James, a wholly parenetical work, has almost nothing distinctively Christian about it. Jesus Christ is mentioned only twice (1:1, 2:1), and both verses could be omitted without any harm to the flow of thought in the text. When the "coming of the Lord" is mentioned (5:7) there is nothing to denote the specifically Christian hope of the parousia; it could equally be a reference to the coming of the Lord God. "Faith" in this text is not specifically Christian faith but rather the acceptance of monotheism (2:19). These facts have led some scholars to suggest that the text is a Jewish homily lightly Christianized. But a number of features seem to speak of a Christian origin, especially the evidence of contacts with Christian parenetical tradition already noted and the discussion of "faith and works" in 2:14-26. The latter seems to presuppose an awareness of Paul's teaching in Galatians 3 and Romans 4.

    The fact that the author calls upon the authority of James the brother of the Lord, who died c. 62 CE, and the debate concerning faith and works suggest the period immediately after James and Paul, in the last third of the first century.

  22. I'm a tad confused. So is this Norman chap saying that James had probably read Matthew, Mark, 1 Peter and Paul's scribbles before writing his stuff?

    However, using the same reasoning one might argue that a brother of Jesus could have also remembered where his brother stood on issues and written this down independently? And then maybe the others read his? Then he might have still died in 62 CE after his writing?

    I'm honestly failing to see how Norman's notes prove James was written later. Like it's not important to me that James was written first. It doesn't really matter. I just actually don't see how this stuff proves a later date when it seems to equally prove the opposite?

  23. He's saying that there are strong parallels between some passages in James to passages in Matthew and Mark, which were written after James had already died. Also that the teaching on faith vs. works was Christian doctrine from the period AFTER Paul. Theres much more on that page, I just pasted 2 paragraphs, go ahead and read the rest. It's all confirming that James was authored not by James the Just.

  24. I'll have a read of the whole thing then cos those two paragraphs alone honestly don't hold water for such a claim!

    Also, if you wanna correct another error in your post it's the:

    "He (Paul) never refers to Jesus as a literal human being who walked on the earth"
    "...he never writes about Jesus as ever existing as a human being on earth."

    Where in the first few verses of Romans, Paul clearly establishes Jesus as both human and descendant of David.