This is our third installment on Richard Carrier’s scorning of Bart Ehmran’s new book. To read part one, see here: To see part two, see here.
In this post, I want to deal with Carrier’s assertion that the Jesus story is a late invention.
In order for Carrier to come this conclusion, he has to basically reject the entire Pauline Epistles as providing any historical information about Jesus. From about AD 48 until his death, Paul wrote at least 13 of the New Testament’s books. Given that historians look to those who are contemporaries of the events, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. Furthermore, the earliest documents we have for the life of Jesus are Paul’s letters.
Paul was a very competent rabbi who was trained at the rabbinic academy called the House of Hillel by ‘Gamaliel,’ a key rabbinic leader and member of the Sanhedrin. Of his 13 books, critical scholars even accept six of them as being authentic in that we can be certain of the author and date of these writings. Of course, there are other scholars such as Luke Timothy Johnson and Raymond Brown that think more than six of them are authored by Paul. But of the 13 books, the six are Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians. And Ehrman has written a book called Forged: Writing in the Name of God—Why The Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are.
In this book, he discusss the other Pauline books that are in question to authorship. I will provide a response to this here by Mike Licona. I think Mike shows there can be a plausable case for the traditional authorship of the disputed New Testament letters that are attributed to Paul.
One tactic by Carrier is to assume that Paul yielded no information about the earthly Jesus. In other words, Paul only speaks of the “heavenly Jesus.” Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy tackle this issue in greater detail in their book The: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. It is common tactic by Jesus mythers: .
First, let me handle a silly objection: “Paul never met Jesus!”
I have heard this objection on several occasions. Do you just pitch every writing you have written about someone else if the author never met the person they are writing about? I doubt it. Secondly, remember the following:
As Louis Gottschalk says:
“Written and oral sources are divided into two kinds: primary and secondary. A primary source is the testimony of an eyewitness….A secondary source is the testimony source is the testimony of anyone who is not an eyewitness-that is, of one who was not present at the events of which he tells. A primary source must thus have been produced by a contemporary of the events it narrates. It does not, however, need to be original in the legal sense of the word original-that is, the very document (usually in a written draft) [autographa] whose contents are the subject of discussion-for quite often a later copy or a printed edition will do just as well; and in the case of the Greek and Roman classic seldom are any but later copies available.” (Understanding History, 53-54).
As we see, since Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, he can be considered as a primary source. He also claimed to have a personal encounter with Jesus (Acts 9:5-9).
Also, let us see if Paul is interested in any of the historical aspects of the life of Jesus: A few comments will do:
“Without knowing about first century Judaism, modern readers—even those committed to faith by reading him—are bound to misconstrue Paul’s writing…Paul is a trained Pharisee who became the apostle to the Gentiles.” –Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990), xi-xii
“Paul has left us an extremely precious document for Jewish students, the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jew…Moreover, if we take Paul at his word—and I see no a priori reason not to—he was a member of the Pharisaic wing of first century Judaism.”–Daniel Boyarian, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 2.
“Paul was a scholar, an attendant of Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, well-versed in the laws of Torah.”-Rabbi Jacob Emeden (1679-1776)–cited by Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2003), 18.
Some of the historical details about the life of Jesus that Paul mentions are the following:
1. Jesus’ Jewish ancestry (Gal 3:16)
2. Jesus’ Davidic descent (Rom 1:3)
3. Jesus being born of a woman (Gal 4:4)
4. Jesus’ life under the Jewish law (Gal 4:4)
5. Jesus’ Brothers (1 Cor 9:5)
6. Jesus’ 12 Disciples (1 Cor 15: 7)
7. One of whom was named James (1 Cor 15: 7)
8. That some had wives (1 Cor 9: 5)
9. Paul knew Peter and James (Gal 1:18-2:16)
10. Jesus’ poverty ( 2 Cor 8:9)
11. Jesus’ humility ( Phil. 1:5-7)
12. Jesus Meekness and Gentleness (2 Cor. 10:1)
13. Abuse by Others (Rom 15:3)
14. Jesus’ teachings on divorce and remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
15. On paying wages of ministers (1 Cor 9:14)
16. On paying taxes ( Rom 13: 6-7)
17. On the duty to love one’s neighbors (Rom 13: 9)
18. On Jewish ceremonial uncleanliness ( Rom 14: 14)
19. Jesus’ titles to deity ( Rom 1: 3-4; 10:9)
20. On vigilance in view of Jesus’ second coming ( 1 Thess: 4: 15)
21. On the Lord’s Supper ( 1 Cor. 11: 23-25)
22. Jesus’ Sinless Life ( 2 Cor. 5:21)
23. Jesus’ death on a cross ( Rom 4:24; 5:8; Gal. 3:13; 1 Cor 15: 3)
24. Specifically by crucifixion ( Rom 6: 6; Gal 2:20)
25. By Jewish instigation ( 1Thess. 2:14-15)
26. Jesus’ burial (1 Cor. 15: 4)
27. Jesus’ resurrection on the “third day” (1 Cor.15:4)
28. Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to the apostles ( 1 Cor.15:5-8)
29. And to other eyewitnesses (1 Cor 15:6); and
30. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand ( Rom 8:34)
Also, as Boyd and Eddy note, if all Paul cared about was a Jesus that was only a heavenly figure, how could he possibly have conformity with Christ as the goal of his life, and how could have instructed others to do the same if he had little interest in what he or the other disciples were to conform to? With Paul, and all other Hellenistic and Jewish models of character, the call to imitate the life of the person presupposed a significant shared body of knowledge about the life that person lived (Boyd/Eddy, pg 210).
Paul’s use of oral tradition terminology
Paul also employs oral tradition terminology such as “delivering,” “receiving,” “passing on” “learning,” “guarding,” the traditional teaching within his letters. Remember, Paul became a believer about AD 35. Paul’s letters contain a number of creeds and hymns (Rom. 1:3-4;1 Cor. 11:23 ff.;15:3-8; Phil. 2:6_11; Col.1:15-18;1 Tim. 3:16; 2 Tim. 2:8; see also John 1:1-18; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 1 John 4:2) that center on the death, resurrection, and deity of Christ. These features are pre-Pauline and very early.
In relating these issues to Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul is saying that what he presents is existing truth that he had received. This can be observed in the following passages:
Romans 16: 17: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.”
1 Corinthians 11:23:
For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread.
I Corinthians 15: 3-8
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
1 Thessalonians 2:13:
For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
2 Thessalonians 2:15:
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
Would Paul Want To Tell The Truth?
As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology notes, the biblical concept of testimony or witness is closely allied with the conventional Old Testament legal sense of testimony given in a court of law. Its validity consists in certifiable, objective facts. In both Testaments, it appears as the primary standard for establishing and testing truth claims. Uncertifiable subjective claims, opinions, and beliefs, on the contrary, appear in Scripture as inadmissible testimony. Even the testimony of one witness is insufficient—for testimony to be acceptable, it must be established by two or three witnesses (Deut 19:15). It can also be observed that the emphasis on eyewitness testimony was carried on through the early church.
As Boyd and Eddy note in the book The Jesus Legend: A Case For the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Tradition, Christianity cannot be understood apart from its first century Jewish context. The Sinai teaching that multiple witnesses was retained Mark 14:56,59; John 5:31-32; Heb 10:28) and also used for church discipline (Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1;1 Tim 5:19). Also, the principle of giving a true testimony and making a true confession are evident in the early church (Matt 10:18; Mark 6:11;13:9-13;Luke 1:1-2;9:5;21:12-13;22:71;John 1:7-8,15,19,32,34;3:26,28;5:32; Acts 1:8,22;3:15;5:32;10:37-41;13:31;22:15;18;23:11;26:16).
So given these issues and that Paul was a Pharisee, we can gather that he was aware of the issues of bearing false witness. He wanted to get his facts straight. Also, to say that Paul would create a mythic Jesus (that was never even a concrete figure) that was later historicized in the Gospels is problematic.
Another tactic by Carrier and his co-Jesus myther Robert Price is to say there are interpolations in Paul’s letters. So if they can find a couple of them, Paul is fairly worthless for anything else. For example, even though 1 Cor 15: 3-8 is the earliest record to the death and resurrection of Jesus, Price says it is an interpolation. But to the problems with this, see here:
Another attempt is made at 1 Thessalonians 2.13-16. But Daniel Wallace has provided a response here.
In the end, I don’t think the Jesus mythers have very sound arguments in their dismissal of Paul. Furthermore, to say the Jesus story is a late invention is patently false.