“But Paul Never Met Jesus”And Other Bad Arguments About Paul On The Internet

Given that historians look to documents that are early and closest to the event at hand, Paul is an important resource for what historians can know about Jesus of Nazareth. 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.  Both Christian and non-Christian scholars have come to have great respect Paul. Allow me to mention a few comments here:

“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.

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. So let’s take a look at the common objections to using Paul as a source for what we can and can’t know about Jesus:

The Evidence We Want:

`#1 “Paul needs to have met Jesus and hung out with him for a while before he became a follower. After all, since Paul never met the historical Jesus,  we can’t use him as a source for knowing anything about Jesus.”

#2: “I want Paul to give us some biographical details about Jesus.”

#3  “We can’t have any different writing styles or different theological emphasis in letters that were written to churches. If we do, then this means Paul didn’t write it.”

#4 “I can’t accept Paul because he is no different than Muhammad or Joseph Smith. He claimed to have some sort of revelation of Jesus.”

Let’s look at each of these objections:

#1:  “Paul needs to have met Jesus and be one of his original disciples. After all, since Paul never met the historical Jesus,  we can’t use him as a source for knowing anything about Jesus.”

This has to be one of the silliest objections of all.

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).

A little time line may be helpful: Remember Paul’s Letters are dated 48 A.D to 60 A.D. However, the information he receives about the death and resurrection of Jesus predate his writings.

The death of Jesus: 30 A.D.—–33A.D

Paul comes to faith between 33 and 35 A.D.

Paul’s Death: 60-65 A.D.

Temple Destroyed: 70 A.D.

I will let the reader decide whether Paul is a primary or secondary source. .

Also,  just because someone didn’t directly meet the person they are writing about doesn’t automatically mean the writer can’t record accurate history about them. If we were to dismiss all writings because the author never met the person directly, we might not know much of anything in history.  Take a look at your library. Do you have any books written about people that the author actually never met? If they never met them, do you not read them or dismiss them? Once again, this is an unrealistic expectation and a gross oversimplification. Furthermore, Paul makes it clear that he knew all about the early Jesus movement. He also Paul visited Jerusalem to speak with Peter and James, each of whom are included in the list of Jesus’ appearances (1 Cor. 15:5, 7; Gal. 1:18–19). He was in contact with those who were direct eyewitnesses to the risen Messiah.

#2: “ Paul doesn’t  give us some biographical details about Jesus.”

Given Paul’s Letters are not biographies and they are predominately dealing with the needs of the community (e.g., doctrinal issues), we shouldn’t expect Paul to provide an abundance of biographical details about Jesus. In other words, since he is writing the believing communities and addressing the doctrinal issues of each community there is no need to establish historical evidence for the life of Jesus. However, we can note  Paul also recorded the following earthly features about Jesus:

1. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham the patriarch (Gal 3:16).

2. Jesus was a direct descendant of King David. This is critical to the belief that he was the Christ, the Messiah of Israel (Rom 1:3; 9:5;15:8; cf. 1Cor 15:3).

3. The mention of Jesus being “born of a woman” (Gal 4:4-5) suggests that Paul knew of and confirmed the virginal conception of Jesus. Paul’s words are in agreement with Matthew’s:

4. “Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ” (Matt 1a6). Jesus was born of the woman, Mary, not of her husband Joseph. 4. Jesus was born and lived in “poverty” (2 Cor 8:9).

5. Jesus was “born under” and lived under Jewish law (Gal 4:4).

6. Jesus had a brother named James and other brothers, unnamed.

7. Jesus had twelve disciples, to whom the risen Lord “appeared” (i Cor 15:5; cf. Mark 3:14 pars.).

8. Peter was the spokesman of the Twelve (e.g., Mark 8:27-30 pars.), a role that developed, post resurrection, into his leadership of the mission (apostole) to the circumcised in Israel (Gal 2:7-8).

9. Jesus’ manner was one of humility and meekness, agreeing with his words recorded in the Gospel, “I am gentle and lowly in heart” (2 Cor. 10:1; Matt 11:29).

10. He was externally “transfigured” on a mountain (Mark 9:2; Matt 17:2), as Paul expects believers to be “transformed” inwardly (2 Co.r 3:18; cf. Rom 12:2).

11. Jesus called God “abba” (Gal 4:6; cf. Rom 8:15).

12. He ministered primarily to Israel/Jews (Rom 15:8).

13. He instituted a memorial meal on the night he was betrayed (1 Cor. 11:23-25).

14. He was cruelly treated at that time (Rom 15:3).

15. He was killed by the Jews of Judea (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

16. He testified before Pontius Pilate (1 Tim 6×3).

17. His “death on a cross” (Phil 2:8) implies execution at Roman hands for treason (cf. Gal 3:1; 6:17).

18. He was buried (1 Cor. 15:4).

19. He was raised on the third day and was seen alive on a number of occasions by many witnesses, most of whom were still alive, able to confirm this (1 Cor. 15:5-7).

See Paul Barnett. Paul, Missionary of Jesus: After Jesus, Vol. 2.

#3:  “If Paul’s letters display different writing styles or a different theological emphasis then this means Paul didn’t write it.”

According to Bart Ehrman,

“There are seven letters that virtually all scholars agree were written by Paul himself: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians and 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. The “undisputed” letters are similar in terms of writing style, vocabulary, and theology. In addition, the issues that they address can plausibly be situated in the early Christian movement of the 40’s and 50’s of the Common Era, when Paul was active as an apostle and missionary”- Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: An Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, 288.

I will defer to Darrell Bock’s treatment on those that question Pauline authorship on the rest of Paul’s Letters.  See the list of articles here.

#4: “I can’t accept Paul because he is no different than Muhammad or Joseph Smith. He claimed to have some sort of revelation of Jesus.”

The argument here is that the claim that Paul’s revelatory or visionary encounter with Jesus is no different that Mohammed and Joseph Smith. In other words, a frequent claim among world religions is that truth has been grounded in revelation.

In response, each revelatory claim needs to be studied in its own context. We need to ask:

1. What is the claim? 2. What is the evidence for the claim? 3. What is the religious and historical context for the claim.

Let’s look at Paul’s revelatory encounter. When we come to Galatians 1:11-12, Paul defends his ministry by discussing the manner of how he received the Gospel:

“ For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12).

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

So what is the truth? Paul says in Galatians that he received it by divine revelation. But  what about the creed in 1 Corinthians 15? How do we respond to this?  First, while we always need to look at the context of where the word “recieved” is used, in both 1 Cor. 15:3 and Galatians 1:12, the word “received” (“παραλαμβάνω”) means to receive something transmitted from someone else, which could be by an oral transmission or from others from whom the tradition proceeds. In other words, according to Paul, he did not create the Gospel story. It was something he received from another source.

So in this case, what is helpful here is to differentiate between essence and form.  The essence of the gospel, that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, was revealed to Paul (he received it) on the life changing moment on the Damascus road. Paul realized that the Christians that he had been persecuting had been right all along about Jesus being the Messiah.

As far as the form the gospel, this includes the historical undergirding of certain events, certain phraseology used to express the new truth and doubtless many other things that were passed onto Paul by those other than him (see Carson, Moo, Morris, An Introduction To The New Testament Survey, pg 220).

Biblical apostles had to be eyewitnesses to the resurrected Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:7–8). Also, the revelation given by Mormon prophets and apostles clearly contradicts the revelation decisively (“once for all”) handed down by the first-century apostles (Jude 3). The point is that while Paul did claim to have received the Gospel by revelation, he was one of several witnesses who had seen the risen Messiah. His experience was publicly corroborated  by the other apostles.  Also, regarding whether Paul had an actual vision, see our post called “What did the Disciples See?”

Furthermore, eight of the eleven witnesses left  the Mormon church or were excommunicated.

And while there is a wealth of archaeological confirmation to the Biblical record, this can’t be said for the Book of Mormon. For example, there is a story of about a Nephite civilization in the New World. But unfortunately there is no archaeological evidence to support the onetime existence of such a civilization in North America or a huge battle in New York. The National Geographic Society, in a 1998 letter to the Institute for Religious Research, stated “Archaeologists and other scholars have long probed the hemisphere’s past and the society does not know of anything found so far that has substantiated the Book of Mormon.“ (see http://irr.org/mit/national-geographic.html ). If you want to go deeper and learn more about Mormonism, this is a good place to start.

Likewise,at age 40, Muhammad began claiming to receive dreams and  revelations, but was unsure of their source. But given the fact that this is one man’s private revelation, the proof is in the pudding. For example, as my friend Wintery Knight points out here:

Consider this argument:

  1. To be a  Muslim, you must believe that the Koran is without error.
  2. The Koran  claims that Jesus did not die on a cross. (Qur’an, 4: 157-158)
  3. The crucifixion of Jesus is undisputed among non-Muslim historians,  including atheist historians.
  4. Therefore, it is not rational for me to become a Muslim.

I’m going to support the premise that Jesus was crucified by citing historians from all backgrounds (including atheists and agnostics, Jews, and non evangelical scholars)

 “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” Gert Lüdemann

“That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”  J.D. Crossan

“The passion of Jesus is part of history.”–Geza Vermes

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is “historically certain”–Pinchas Lapide

“The single most solid fact about Jesus’ life is his death: he was executed by the Roman prefect Pilate, on or around Passover, in the manner Rome reserved particularly for political insurrectionists, namely, crucifixion.” —Paula Fredriksen

“The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its co-agents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned, and was executed by crucifixion.” L.T. Johnson

“One of the most certain facts of history is that Jesus was crucified on orders of the Roman prefect of Judea, Ponitus Pilate.”— Bart Ehrman

Furthemore, the Qur’an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus  which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament. It seems the evidence that has just been discussed tells us that the historical content of the Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) was circulating very early among the Christian community. As I just said, historians look for the records that are closest to the date of event. Given the early date of 1 Cor. 15: 3-8, it is quite evident that this document is a more reliable resource than the Qur’an.


10 thoughts on ““But Paul Never Met Jesus”And Other Bad Arguments About Paul On The Internet

  1. Adam March 30, 2016 / 6:58 am

    Your claim about the crucifixion of Jesus being accepted universally by historians is false. Many historians (including atheist ones) reject the notion that Jesus ever existed to begin with (their argument is that there were no Roman source about an important person starting a religion in the Mid East).

    Also even if most X (in this case historians) believed it, the claim doesn’t become true. Suggesting so is an appeal to majority and authority.

    And preferring the NT because it’s older than Quran is a logical fallacy called appeal to tradition.

    None of the dates you provided are proof of Paul being a follower of Jesus when the latter was alive. And dates don’t mean anything, Paul could be alive during the time of Jesus but live in a different place and have never met him. In fact, there is no Christian claim that Paul ever met Jesus.

    Paul is not a primary source and since his arguments in his book rests on his witness, those arguments and statements cannot be affirmed to be true. It’s one thing to be a historian while acting like you’re not a primary source it’s another thing to be act like you’re a primary source when you’re not.

    • chab123 March 31, 2016 / 1:40 am


      I don’t debate the existence of Jesus (see my comment policy tab). I find it to be ridiculous. But I will respond to a few of your comments:

      1. As far as the crucifixion of Jesus not being universally accepted by atheists because they reject Jesus existed, this leads to the response, “No duh!”

      If the handful of atheists such as Carrier and others that all you guys cite don’t think Jesus existed, obviously they would probably not think he was crucified. I cited Gert Lüdemann who is an atheist and does think it is indisputable that Jesus was crucified.

      As far as Romans not mentioning the crucifixion, we have responded to that for years now. See the Arlandson article that I have had on my blog for a long time. https://bible.org/seriespage/did-jesus-even-exist

      “appeal to tradition”- is a logical fallacy. Please cite the textbook and author where you got that from.

      Dating doesn’t matter? Hmmm. What kind of resources do you read for appealing to tools of historical method? I will cite one:

      “An historian must not merely provide good relevant evidence but the best relevant evidence. And the best relevant evidence, all things being equal, is evidence which is most nearly immediate to the event itself.”–Hacket Fisher, D.H., Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1970, 62.

      You say “Paul could be alive during the time of Jesus but live in a different place and have never met him. In fact, there is no Christian claim that Paul ever met Jesus.”

      I already responded to this in the post. So your objection is irrelevant. It doesn’t cast any doubt on Paul being a reliable source for Jesus. I suggest you go back and read the post.

      Whether Paul is a primary or secondary source doesn’t matter. He is mix of both. If you are honestly going to argue since Paul never directly met Jesus, we can’t use Paul, you have pretty much proved my point as to why this is a silly internet argument. Nobody in scholarly circles would use that argument.

      That will be it. Take care.

  2. taterskank August 9, 2018 / 9:58 pm


    Paul is the earliest and only firsthand source we have in regards to the Resurrection. Therefore, he is more likely to accurately preserve the earliest Christian beliefs. In Gal. 1:11-17 he talks about his conversion experience where “God revealed His Son in him” v. 16. This encounter was a spiritual experience *from heaven* not a physical encounter with a revived corpse walking around on earth. Paul equates this experience with the other “appearances” in 1 Cor 15:5-8. He uses the same verb ὤφθη (ōphthē) for each one without distinction. This word was commonly employed in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) to describe spiritually experiencing the presence of God. It did not necessarily mean they physically saw anything and Paul makes no distinction in regards to the nature of the appearances. So it seems from the earliest source, the belief was that everyone just “spiritually experienced” Jesus from heaven. This makes perfect sense in the context of the first century and Second Temple Judaism because it was a visionary culture which claimed to have visions of God and angels all the time.

    But if the “appearances” were originally understood as spiritual visions from heaven then does that mean the physical appearances in the gospels and the Orthodox belief Christians hold in the physical resurrection is false?

    Yes, or at least it “appears” that way.

      • taterskank August 11, 2018 / 2:26 pm

        The point is that Paul’s experience happened while Jesus was *in heaven* and he does not distinguish what he saw from the “appearances” to the others in 1 Cor 15:5-7. The Ascension narratives and physical resurrection to the earth were later developments in the gospels. Without prematurely reading in your knowledge of those stories you’d have no reason to think Paul was talking about physical appearances.

      • chab123 August 12, 2018 / 2:20 pm

        Read the link I left. And don’t copy and paste stuff without giving them credit. That’s why I don’t do much debating on the internet.

  3. taterskank August 12, 2018 / 2:26 pm

    Those are posts of my own creation. Your link doesn’t address my objection. If Paul says “Jesus appeared (ophthe) to them and appeared (ophthe) to me too” then that is consistent with Paul saying they all just “spiritually experienced” Jesus from heaven. But if that’s true then Orthodox Christianity is false which is why an apologist is motivated to reject this interpretation. The problem is they can’t honestly do so and they know it. Have fun with that.

    • chab123 August 12, 2018 / 2:30 pm

      Nope. read the post I left on “what did Paul see. ” I do address it. Read it or stop commenting. And please avoid the etymological fallacy. That will be it. Have a nice day.

      • taterskank August 12, 2018 / 3:50 pm

        But you deleted my post that demonstrated “seeing” didn’t necessarily mean they actually “saw” anything with their eyes. The verbs for seeing were used in a figurative way and to denote subjective spiritual experiences where nothing was actually “seen” at all. Paul himself describes his experience as an “inner revelation” in Gal. 1:16. This happened to Paul while Jesus was located in heaven. If Paul can use this experience as a *Resurrection appearance* then that proves early Christians accepted visions/revelations from heaven as an experience of the Risen Christ. So by Paul placing his *vision* of Jesus in the same list as the other “appearances” while using the same verb for each one, it follows that it’s perfectly reasonable to assume Paul was saying all the experiences were the same type or similar i.e. spiritual experiences from heaven and not real world physical encounters. In order to conclude otherwise you have to necessarily appeal to the later gospel reports (that Paul does not corroborate) then anachronistically read that knowledge into the text. This is fallacious because it does not necessarily follow that the earliest Christians believed what is in these later stories.

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