Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bad Anti-Christian Argument: Paul Didn't Believe in an Earthly Jesus

On my alternate-history forum, there was a discussion about what might have happened if Jesus had died in infancy.  From a historical perspective, this means no Christianity, period, which in turn spawns a multitude of other changes.

However, this derailed into a discussion about whether Jesus actually existed in the first place.  Although the Jesus Myth Theory is no longer as prominent as it was in the 19th Century, there are still some people who believe in it.

One of the arguments used by the JMT crowd is that the Apostle Paul did not believe in an actual Jesus who walked the Earth and instead believed in a Jesus whose sacrifice and resurrection took place in the spiritual realm.  Scholar Robert Price, according to the Wikipedia article, said the letters of Paul do not provide evidence of a historical Jesus, while George Albert Wells suggests Paul's Jesus was primarily a heavenly being.

Here's another link describing the "heavenly Jesus" theory in more detail:

Christ As "Man": Does Paul Speak of Jesus as a Historical Person?

Here's another:

Did Jesus Actually Exist?

However, this argument fails because Paul makes references to the earthly Jesus in several different contexts.

Jesus as a descendant of Abraham: Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Christ.

Jesus as a physical descendant of King David: Romans 1:3 (ESV)

concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh.

Jesus born of a woman and subject to the Law of Moses: Galatians 4:4 (ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law. 

Jesus' institution of the Last Supper: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

 23For  I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that  the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, "This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Jesus, like the Old Testament prophets, had been persecuted and killed: 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16

14For you, brothers,became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind 16by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last

Jesus appeared to mortals after His resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (ESV)

3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

Jesus had mortal brothers, who were married and whose wives traveled with them: 1 Corinthians 9:5 (NIV)

Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?

And the Wikipedia article on the JMT contains other Pauline references to Jesus's earthly life that I did not include because they *could* be construed, however weakly, as not taking place on this earth.  I think those I did choose are enough to destroy the notion that Paul did not believe in a human Jesus.

Also, the Acts of the Apostles, which was written by Luke, describes how Paul was present when Stephen, the first martyr, was killed.  This takes place in Acts 6, which does not appear to be all that long after Jesus's ascension into heaven and Pentecost.  Even though Paul was not a Christian at this point, he would have likely at least had some familiarity with Jesus' earthly ministry.

This article here also finds parallels between Jesus' teachings and those of Paul, which should also nix those claims that Paul was using Jesus to advance his own ideas and that he was not familiar with the teachings of the earthly Jesus, a claim that is sometimes tied with the "heavenly Jesus" idea:

Pauline Theology: Jesus and Paul

Even if Christianity is not "the true religion" (and I would be dishonest if I did not say there are some things that have caused me to doubt in recent years), there are still a whole lot of really bad arguments against it.  If we're going to debate something with eternal implications (such as the veracity of Christianity), we should at least get rid of the foolish arguments on both sides.

(There are bad Christian arguments too, but those are not the focus of this blog post.)


  1. Looks impressive, old man. But you should - despite your impressive selection of Pauline sources - address the authorship of the various letters. I think there may have been something in Chat the other week about pseudepigrapha and clearly if we don't assess what we know Paul wrote we can't assess what Paul thought. This is just a vague suggestion: my first thought. My second thought was that your range of quotations covers such a breadth of Pauline letters that you have probably dealt with the question without it being asked. Yet it should be directly addressed. Keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    Assuming even some of the Pauline letters were not actually written by Paul, I've quoted a fairly wide breadth of them. IIRC Romans is not one of the disputed ones, although I think one of the Thessalonians is.

    However, I'm not especially familiar with the "Paul vs. Deutero-Paul" arguments, so I cannot comment intelligently on them.

  3. Nor am I. It simply stuck in my head that the authorship of some of the Pauline letters was questionable. I agree you have quote a good breadth. It depends on your personal take, of course. If you're happy that Paul was the author, there's no need to address the point, but from an external perspective it's one of those "dot the *i*s, cross the *t*s" things. Like you, I am not at all au fait with arguments of authorship in this context.

  4. I did a Google search for "Deutero-Paul" and found the following link:


    None of the ones I quoted are disputed in terms of Pauline authorship, so I figure I'm fairly safe.

    1. Hi Matt,

      I enjoyed your post, but you must know that reasonable objections have been raised to every point you made. Please consider "The Jesus Puzzle" by Earl Doherty, "The Falsified Paul" by Hermann Detering, and "Nailed..." by David Fitzgerald.
      Also, this fact alone should give pause--considering that these events allegedly happened between 30-70CE, yet the earliest manuscripts we have date from 200CE and later, allows for many textual shenanigans before we get to the NT we now use to make these arguments for historicity.

  5. I really cannot see a "spiritual Jesus" explanation for those passages. I specifically left out the ones with even a hint of ambiguity.

    I did a search for earliest known Pauline manuscripts and I'll concede a figure of 200 AD (I will not call it CE). That alone is simply not basis to lend the "spiritual Jesus" theory any credibility--by that standard, you could claim Paul really taught Jesus was a Martian or that Paul himself didn't exist either.

    I'll look into those books, but I'm rather busy these days. Could you post some of the arguments they make here?

    I Googled "Doherty" and "lords brothers" and found this:


    As I pointed out in this post, I am not above doubts. However, should I ever conclude Christianity is a false religion, I will not start parroting the Jesus Myth Hypothesis. Jesus does not have to be completely fictional in order to not be the Messiah.

    1. I understand why you are taking your position. That this whole thing could be something other than what we've heard all our lives is hard to take. But I think some of the arguments are compelling, and worth considering. I think you don't see the 'spiritual Jesus' from those passages because you are looking at it in reverse. Jesus was a spiritual character first who was then historicized--there are good arguments that the above passages were added later to help accomplish this. Take a look at Roger Viklund's article on the subject : http://www.jesusgranskad.se/jesuscharacter.htm and Earl Doherty's brief synopsis of his book arguments: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/puzzle1.htm Here's another nugget: https://wipfandstock.com/store/Matthew_Mark_Luke_and_Paul_The_Influence_of_the_Epistles_on_the_Synoptic_Gospels Author Smith shows that there is a good chance that the gospels were constructed using ideas from Paul's letters. I'm not trying to argue you into or out of anything, I'm just saying that there seems to be alot more than meets the eye :-)

  6. So if I don't find an argument convincing, it's because it contradicts what I've been brought up to think and not because it's simply unconvincing?

    I'm reading the "Pieces of the Jesus Puzzle" thing now and #1 is simply wrong (a lack of non-Gospel references to Jesus's life, which even you acknowledge even though you suggest they're made up to "historicize" him). #3's "leave no room" claim is not convincing either.

    Here's a link to 1 Clement, which includes references to the Gospel of Matthew (1 Clement 13:1-2).


    From a cursory Google search, Clement was written in the late first or early second centuries AD, putting it in the lifetime of Jesus's youngest followers.

    That means either Matthew had been written at this point or there was some other source of Jesus quotes now lost. Either way, well before 200 AD.

    About the Josephus quotes, here's an article that says although later Christians played with the Josephus quotes, there's an authentic core to them:


    Viklund can't just handwave them away.

    Just because someone can make a good case for something doesn't mean it's right. If you want to say the fact Jesus's existence is even remotely debatable calls into question His messianic status, that is a legitimate argument. As one of your sources says, nobody debates the existence of Winston Churchill.

    However, the Jesus Myth Hypothesis is no longer accepted by the majority of scholars. Even the Jesus Seminar people who aren't orthodox Christians (they deny miracles, the resurrection, etc) acknowledge he existed.

  7. Sorry to be posting as 'anonymous'--I don't belong to any of the profiles. My name is Scott, and I'm in California.
    It may be unconvincing because you've got modern gospel-tinged glasses on and aren't reading carefully enough. Obviously Doherty's first point is his nutshell argument--you can click on the article note to read further, you should. I don't think you should just hand wave away some of his arguments. Nor those of Ken Olson regarding the Testimonium: http://www.mountainman.com.au/essenes/article_008.htm
    Robert Eisler's article on Josephus is fascinating too: http://www.josephus.org/eisler.htm
    And may I say that just because the "majority of scholars"(the authority fallacy) make a good case for the historicity of Jesus doesn't mean it's right, either. Once upon a time, the majority of scholars thought the earth was the center of the universe....
    I'm willing to admit there may have been a Joshua/Yeshua person who did some things, and a bunch of legends grew up around him. But he has been so buried in mythical stuff, it's impossible to get to a useful core that means anything to me. My religious experience has gotten me to the point that the Jesus myth makes more sense of the story, than just believing the story is historically reliable and therefore something that should have influence in my life. Thanks for continuing the conversation, this is a continuing long road for me :-)

  8. Dr. Robert M. Price has some excellent thoughts on all of this here: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/zblog/?p=11

  9. "The majority of scholars" is not an authority fallacy because the Jesus Myth Hypothesis was once much more popular, but has since declined. Your Eisler essay, for example, dates back to 1929. That's before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library, for example.

    We're not talking about a Copernicus/Galileo situation here.


    Even though Wikipedia is not always reliable, this has got a lot of citations.

    And Price clearly wrote his "excellent thoughts" before Ehrman released "Lost Christianities." Price is claiming Ehrman believed the early church was uniform in its beliefs, when the whole point of "Lost Christianities" is that it wasn't.

    Furthermore, it's not an either-or choice between "Christianity is true" (or even the "Jefferson Bible version" of Jesus-minus-the-miracles is true) and the JMH.

    1. Your careless reading of the links I have posted puts me at a disadvantage. If anything, the wikipedia article you linked, which is otherwise quite good, commits the consensus fallacy numerous times. It clearly shows how difficult it is to find the "historical" Jesus, to the point where one should ask, "why bother?". Rather than saying Eisler's article is old, say something useful instead. Price's article is from August 2012, in response to Ehrman's latest book about Jesus' existence. If the Jesus myth theory is not very popular, what do you think made Ehrman decide to write a book about it (a poorly researched and rushed one at that)? "Lost Christianities" is from 2005, try to keep up. Richard Carrier slams the lid down pretty well--http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/2946/ And here's a paper presented by Lena Einhorn from the latest SBL that will give you something new to think about: http://lenaeinhorn.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Jesus-and-the-Egyptian-Prophet-12.11.25.pdf I can see this needs to be my last post, sorry to have bothered you. Again, not trying to convert you to anything, just trying to get you to see that there are other ways of looking at this that are quite valid, so being dogmatic about it is a waste of life.