How Reliable is Apostle Paul When He Knew Very Little About Jesus?

How Reliable is Apostle Paul When He Knew Very Little About Jesus? September 4, 2015

What Did Paul Know About Jesus?For being the founder of Christianity, Paul knew surprisingly little about Christ.

Paul is our first and, for that reason, potentially our most reliable source of information on the life of Jesus. Let’s sift Paul’s writings for information about Jesus. Using the gospels as a guide, we’ll find that Paul is a shallow source of information.

If we were to extract biographical information from the gospels, we’d have a long list—the story of Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, raising Lazarus, the Prodigal Son story, curing blindness with spit, odd events like his cursing the fig tree, and so on. But what information about Jesus do we get from Paul?

Paul’s famous passage

We’ll start with the well-known passage from 1 Corinthians 15.

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. (1 Cor. 15:3–8)

This tells us that

1. Jesus died “for our sins.”

2. Jesus was buried.

3. Jesus was resurrected from the dead three days later, in fulfillment of prophecy.

4. Jesus made many post-resurrection appearances.

Though 1 Corinthians was written perhaps twenty years after the death of Jesus, some scholars argue that this three-sentence passage was written with a different style and so is an early creed that preceded Paul’s writing, taking us back closer to the earliest disciples. But others use the same logic to argue the opposite conclusion, that it was a later insertion. (Our oldest copy of this passage comes from papyrus manuscript P46, written around 200. That’s close to two centuries where we can’t be sure what changes might’ve been made.)

Let’s first sift through Paul’s epistles for confirmation of these first claims.

1. Confirmed—Paul writes elsewhere that Jesus was a sacrifice (see Romans 3:25, 5:6–8, 8:3; 1 Cor. 5:7; and more). The passage above does not contain the word “Jesus,” but many other Pauline verses combine “Jesus” and “Christ.”

2. Confirmed: “We have been buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death” (Rom. 6:4).

3. Confirmed: many verses report that Jesus was raised from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:20; Rom. 1:4, 4:24; 2 Cor. 4:14; and more). Note, however, that there is no confirmation of the three days or the scriptural prophecy.

4. Not confirmed: There is no confirmation of the post-resurrection appearances in Paul’s epistles.

The rest of Paul’s Jesus

Here are the additional biographical details we find in Paul’s letters.

5. He was a descendant of David: “his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David” (Rom. 1:3).

6. He had brothers: “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5; also Gal. 1:19). (“Brothers of the Lord” can’t mean just spiritual brothers because Cephas [that is, Peter] is excluded, and he would obviously be a spiritual brother.)

7. He was poor: “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor” (2 Cor. 8:9).

8. He was meek and gentle: “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1).

9. He was selfless “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others; [this attitude] was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:4–7).

10. He was crucified: “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; also 1 Cor. 2:2, Galatians 3:1, 2 Cor. 13:4, and more).

11. He was betrayed: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed” (1 Cor. 11:23; also 2 Timothy 2:8).

12. He asked that his followers eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him (1 Cor. 11:23–6). (However, the Vridar blog argues that this is an interpolation.)

13. He was a Jew: “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4; also Gal. 3:16).

14. His mission was to both Jews (“Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God …,” Rom. 15:8) and Gentiles (“… and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy,” Rom. 15:9).

15. Jesus was killed by Jews: “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 2:14–15)

We could go further afield, into books that are almost universally rejected as authored by Paul. For example, 1 Tim. 6:13 places the trial of Jesus during the rule of Pontius Pilate, and Hebrews 5:5 gives an Adoptionist view of Jesus (that is, Jesus was a man adopted by God).

But if we stick to just the reliably Pauline works, assume the authenticity of 1 Cor. 15, and ignore that our copies are far removed from the originals and therefore suspect, here is the Gospel of Paul:

Jesus died for our sins by crucifixion, was buried, and was then raised from the dead three days later, according to prophecy. He was seen by many after the resurrection. He was a Jew, had brothers, and was a descendant of David. He was poor, meek, gentle, and selfless, and his mission was to both Jew and Gentile. He was betrayed, he defined a bread and wine ritual for his followers, and the Jews killed him.

The End.

What’s missing?

The Gospel of Paul is one brief paragraph. It arguably has the most important element—death as a sacrifice for our sins and resurrection—but very little else.

No parables of the sheep and the goats, or the prodigal son, or the rich man and Lazarus, or the lost sheep, or the good Samaritan. In fact, no Jesus as teacher at all.

No driving out evil spirits, or healing the invalid at Bethesda, or cleansing the lepers, or raising Lazarus, or other healing miracles. As far as Paul tells us, Jesus performed no miracles at all.

No virgin birth, no Sermon on the Mount, no feeding the 5000, no public ministry, no women followers, no John the Baptist, no cleansing the temple, no final words, no Trinity, no hell, no Judas as betrayer (he mentions “the twelve”), and no Great Commission. Paul doesn’t even place Jesus within history—there’s nothing to connect Jesus with historical figures like Caesar Augustus, King Herod, or Pontius Pilate.

Perhaps everyone to whom Paul wrote his letters knew all this already? Okay, but presumably they already knew about the crucifixion, and Paul mentions that 13 times. And the resurrection, which Paul mentions 14 times.

Christians may say that Paul knew the biographical details of Jesus but simply didn’t have occasion to write of them, but this route must not be taken lightly. When the issue of the dating of New Testament books comes up, those Christians will want to take the opposite approach. The lack of certain historical events in the gospels or Acts (death of Paul, destruction of the Temple) must mean that the author didn’t know of them. As a result, they’ll say, we must date these books before those historical events.

So which is it—does a notable omission mean that the author didn’t know that fact or simply didn’t bother relating it?

Paul indirectly admits that he knew of no Jesus miracles:

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:22–3)

Why “a stumbling block”? Jesus did lots of miraculous “signs”—why didn’t Paul convince the Jews with these? Paul apparently didn’t know any. The Jesus of Paul is not the miracle worker that we see in the Jesus of the gospels.

But suppose the problem is Jews demanding actual miracles performed in front of them, not merely stories of miracles. That shouldn’t be a problem either. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these” (John 14:12). And, indeed, the book of Acts reports that this happened. Peter healed a lame man (Acts 3:1–8) and raised a woman from the dead (Acts 9:36–42), Philip exorcised demons to heal people (Acts 8:5–8), and “the apostles performed many signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12).

So then who was Paul referring to?

The Jesus of Paul isn’t the Jesus of the gospels. Robert Price questions whether Paul even imagined an earthly Jesus (Bible Geek podcast for 10/3/12 @ 1:15:10). Where did the Jesus in Paul’s mind come from, if not history? Perhaps from the Scriptures. Commenter Greg G. lists Paul’s traits of Jesus and shows where in the Old Testament he could have gotten them. (I’ve written more about the evolution of the Jesus story here.)

What would Paul have said about the philosophical issues that divided the church for centuries? These don’t mean much to most of us today because they’ve long been decided, but they were divisive in their day—whether Jesus was subordinate to God or not, whether Jesus had a human body or not, whether he had a human nature or not, whether he had two wills or not, whether the Holy Spirit was part of the Godhead, and so on. No one knows how Paul would have resolved them or even if they crossed his mind.

The Gospel of Paul is more evidence that the Jesus story is just a legend that grew with time.

Good sources for more information:

Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. 
Faith must trample underfoot 
all reason, sense, and understanding.
— Martin Luther

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 12/17/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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  • busterggi

    Heck, Siegal & Shuster didn’t know Superman could fly or had x-ray vision either.

    • There’s also that Goddamn “French kiss with memory erasing tongue” thing that I always thought was loony, even for DC.

      • busterggi

        Kryptonian tongues are veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery different than Terran.

        • Maybe. Still pretty f–ked up though, seriously.

  • There’s a leap between the statements “Paul’s Jesus figure isn’t the same as that from the gospels” (not that the gospels aren’t full of contradictions, especially between John and the not Johns) and “Paul didn’t even believe in a physical Jesus at all” that I find to be pretty large. While I see this argument made by many, I don’t find it to be entirely convincing. Paul stresses points that seem to talk about a physical fellow where it doesn’t seem to work as only allegory– particularly that Jesus was well solidly dead and buried before coming back. He looks like an embellisher rather than a pure mythmaker.

    This goes into speculation now, but maybe the most likely explanation is that an obscure one out of the many, many ‘failed’ messiahs that had come and gone in this general time period among Jewish fringe groups had a few followers first. Then, Paul heard about it and either consciously or subconsciously merged it with his epilepsy-based moments of mental confusion (visions, dreams, daydreams, etc) to make this Hercules-like demigod.

    • Greg G.

      Paul and the other early epistle writers quote Isaiah a lot and make many allusions to the Suffering Servant songs. You can see much of Paul’s theology in these verses including the dead and buried ideas.

      Isaiah 53:5 (NRSV)But he was wounded for our transgressions,    crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the punishment that made us whole,    and by his bruises we are healed.

      Isaiah 53:9 (NRSV)They made his grave with the wicked    and his tomb with the rich,although he had done no violence,    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

      Isaiah 53:12 (NRSV)12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great,    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong;because he poured out himself to death,    and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors.

    • wtfwjtd

      I’ve been wondering lately, too, about the possibility of Jesus being a legend by Paul’s time, to wit: “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”–I Cor 2:1
      This sounds to me like the answer to the question: “But Paul, what about all those Jesus miracles, and other cool sayings and stuff we’ve been hearing about?” Maybe Paul was a little embarrassed by some of those wild claims, too, and tried to tone down expectations by strictly focusing on the crucifixion.

      • That makes sense. But then, I guess, it’s hard to say given the scarcity of evidence for Jesus to piece what really happened together.

  • wtfwjtd

    Note, points #3 and #14 are in direct contradiction to material we find in the gospels; Matthew’s Jesus and Luke’s Jesus were dead less than 3 days, and Jesus said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.

    Point #15 is debatable as well, since “the Jews” apparently did not have legal standing to execute criminals. In fact, I find it rather remarkable, Paul seems very charitable to the Romans in the book of Romans, and never says nary an unkind thing about them in all his writings.

    And one final note: Paul’s silence concerning Jesus as a miracle-worker is all the more remarkable, considering the following: “Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”– 2 Cor 12:11-12.

    Paul, who calls himself a nobody, nonetheless claims to be an apostolic miracle worker, but his Lord Jesus wasn’t? In light of everything else we know about Paul, this is a very strange omission on his part.

    • Ehrman’s article (paywall) has a fascinating summary of the important contradictions between Paul and the gospels:

      “Jesus taught that the coming cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy the forces of evil and bring in God’s good kingdom was a figure that he called the Son of Man, someone other than himself, who could come on the clouds of heaven in a mighty act of judgment. Paul taught that Jesus himself was the coming cosmic judge of the earth who would destroy the forces of evil and bring in God’s good kingdom, who would come on the clouds of heaven in a mighty act of judgment.

      “Jesus taught that to escape judgment, a person must keep the central teachings of the Law as he himself interpreted them. Paul taught that reliance on the observance of the Law in no sense would bring salvation; to escape the coming judgment a person must, instead, believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus

      “Jesus taught that “faith” involves trusting God, as a good parent, to bring his future kingdom to his people; Paul taught that “faith” involves trusting in the past death and resurrection of Jesus. It wasn’t only faith in God but faith in the death and resurrection of Christ.

      “For Jesus, his own importance lay in his proclamation of the coming of the end and his correct interpretation of the Law. For Paul, Jesus’ importance had nothing to do with Jesus’ own teachings (which Paul hardly ever quotes) but strictly in his death and resurrection.

      “For Jesus, people could begin to experience what life would be like in the future kingdom if they would accept his teachings and begin to implement his understanding of the Jewish law in their lives. For Paul, people could begin to experience life in the kingdom when they “died with Christ” by being baptized and thus overcame the power of sin.”

      • wtfwjtd

        That sounds like a great summary. In my days as a Christian the Gospels were looked to as primary sources for information about Jesus, and then they were read back into the Epistles in order to smooth over the rough edges. Nowadays, though, for me Paul is the go-to guy for what defined early Christianity, and when the gospels clash with Paul, Paul’s version wins. With Paul’s version we learn next to nothing about a historical figure, but that’s pretty much what you would expect if he was just one of many of the false messiah claimants running around in first century Palestine.

      • If one of the gospels are correct, then the “sheep v. goats” allegory means that even non-Christians and non-Jews who have ever even heard of Christian thought will be embraced by Jesus and taken by Jesus to heaven after death.

        Quite a black-v-white contrast with Pauline Christianity and the early Catholic Church’s views on things. Saying that Jews, Muslims, atheists, and others that practiced ‘good works’ would get salvation through ‘good works’ would get you fired, beaten up, and maybe even killed in some areas. Yet there it is in the non-Paul and non-John synoptic gospel, clear as crystal. Yowza.

        • Yep, that’s a favorite parable of mine as well (Matthew 25). You get judged by your works, not by your faith.

          Who’d’ve thought?

          I’m surprised by Christians celebrating the faith thing (“so that no man may boast,” apparently)–what a stupid entrance requirement for heaven.

        • wtfwjtd

          When I was a teenage Christian, preachers used to love to scare the hell into us by intimating that it was very easy to commit the “unpardonable sin” without even knowing it. I found this parable as a Bible quizzer, and took comfort in its message that if you just do the best you can then maybe you can still sneak into heaven, even if some of your doctrinal understandings weren’t quite perfect and/or your faith wasn’t quite up to snuff.

        • Aram McLean

          Not to mention teenagers by definition feel a bit lost. Of course you’re experiencing a lack of meaning, insecurity, a fucking hole, whatever. It’s because you’re a teenager and when it comes to growing up there’s just no substitute for time. But no, these predatory monkeys jump in and declare this naturally scary shift from child to adult as being a vacancy totally in the shape of a bearded man wearing sandals. And the unhappy result is a bunch of wallies stuck at the mentality of a teenager for life, forever trying to jam Jesus into their every hole instead of, you know, growing up and working through their shit.

        • Greg G.

          In The Parable of the Great Supper (Matthew 22:1-14), it seems you might get kicked out of heaven if you happen to get “invited” when you aren’t attending a wedding.

          11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe,
          12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless.
          13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

        • I’ve just read that parable again and realised how stupid it is.

          A king invites some dudes to his son’s wedding. Somehow, this leads to a war and he burns down their city. He then has his servants invite some hobos instead, but one hobo is poorly dressed, so the king has him tied up and thrown outside to be tortured. This is apparently an analogy for how great the Kingdom of God is.

          Worst parable ever.

        • Greg G.

          Luke apparently didn’t think much of it either. (Luke 14:16-24) He turned the king into a regular citizen and had three would-be guests give specific excuses: One just bought real estate, an allusion to the kingdom of heaven in Mt 22:2, one just bought five yoke of oxen, an allusion to the menu of oxen and fatted calves in Mt 22:4, and one just got married, an allusion to the wedding banquet. Luke dropped all the R-rated violence.

          I think Gospel of Thomas Saying 64 was then taken from Luke’s version with a little extra added against businessmen.

    • Greg G.

      Point #15 is debatable as well, since “the Jews” apparently did not have legal standing to execute criminals.

      Notice that 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15 says “14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone.” It has the Lord Jesus listed before the prophets where it says they were killed, then he refers to his own situation. This is an important passage for Jesus historisists but it is better aligned to my argument.

      • wtfwjtd

        I know that Acts isn’t history, but there is a pattern here: “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads–I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.”–Acts 18:5-6

        These vague references “the Jews” almost seem like purposeful anti-semitic references to specifically bolster Paul’s claim that his message is for the gentiles.

        • Greg G.

          I think Luke made a lot of inferences from Paul’s letters. Galatians tells a bit about how Paul and Peter started out on the right foot. (Paul may not have come up with the crucifixion idea at the time.) But he spent two chapters discrediting Peter and James before asking who in Galatians 3:1 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” I think the previous two chapters are a hint that the question is rhetorically referring to Peter and James. I wonder if 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 – “22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” and 1 Thessalonians 2:15 “[Jews] drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone” aren’t a continuation of his Galatians rant.

        • wtfwjtd

          That “portrayed as crucified” always sounded strange to me. As a Christian I always wrote it off as some kind of “cultural difference.” These days I’m not so sure it’s that simple.

          That passage in Corinthians always reminded me of Mark 8:11-12: “The Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. 12Sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

          Also, Matthew 12:39:”But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet;…”

          So Matthew’s “improvement” to the story is “quit asking for evidence; that’s evil. Shut up and believe.” That actually sounds more like the message that Paul is hinting at. From that standpoint, I’d say it’s a fair guess that possibly all of these gospel writers may have had access to Paul’s material.

        • When it comes to Mark, though, that Jesus is depicted there as sort of sighing and expressing reserved resignation to the question– rather than being angry and nasty– is interesting. It seems like maybe Mark really did think of his Jesus as being a kind of “stoic hero” / “the put-upon wanderer” trope out of Greco-Roman drama tales. It could be that Mark, unlike the other authors, knew only vaguely about Paul’s segment of the many early Christianities. Only maybe Mark just didn’t care.

        • wtfwjtd

          Mark’s Jesus is a different character all right. He implies that Jesus didn’t become a son of god until his baptism; he has to spit in the dirt and make paste to heal blind men; and he travels everywhere by ship. Some of these characteristics certainly sound like your “stoic hero” type.

        • Greg G.

          In Galatians, Paul shows disdain for those who are esteemed as “pillars” by not caring what they were. Those three are Jesus’ main sidekicks in Mark. Peter is said to stop eating with the Gentiles because he feared the men sent from James. He is the seed in the rocky soil (Peter = Cephas = Rock), who talks big but chickens out often. James and John are presented as vaingloriously wanting to sit at either hand in glory. I think Jesus might be SuperPaul, who like Odysseus, traveled around the Mediterranean, while Jesus traveled around the Sea of Galilee.

  • L.Long

    Just like Caesar & Alexander, many things are said of them & Jesus.
    So like them there may have been a real jew preacher with bad advice. Also like them jesus was a son of gawd who did miracles and is related by a few writers. So Like jesus the other two are supernatural too!! NO!! then what is the real proof that only Caesar was? ;-}

    • Greg G.

      The earliest writings about Jesus are not about a preacher with any advice nor a teacher or his teachings. He was the Lord in heaven. Paul seems to think he may have been crucified at an unspecified time after David’s time but the other apostles apparently disputed the crucifixion, as seen in Galatians.

    • At least Caesar and Alexander had stylish looking short haircuts, while Jesus was rockin’ an 80s AOR band style mullet the likes of which he could be spouting out “I can’t fight this feelin’ anymore”.

      • Ron

        Cronin felt it necessary to roll with the changes.

  • Bram Kaandorp

    It’s almost as if the gospels were written after Paul’s letters.

    Hmmm…

  • Yonah

    Neither epistles, Acts, or the Gospels, or Revelation of the NT were written as biographies of Jesus. All of the NT material is internal theological and ecclesial material…internal to the Church which produced them…in different communities of the Church. All of the material is not original source…you can tell that by the internal use of previous material…both written and oral. The church existed nearly 4 centuries without the canon now accepted. The same trajectory occurred in Judaism where oral tradition and other written sources, over time, resulted in an official canon in the early rabbinic period.
    Bob is arguing with fundamentalism…which ahistorically appoints a single source as a unified “claim”. That fundamentalist and evangelical conservative Christianity have marked numerical heft today (though now declining) is true. But, it is also true that older forms of Christianity and Judaism never relied on the sort of claims that Bob is concerned with. In regard to Christianity, since the early Church it was held that it is the Holy Spirit which brings people to faith in Jesus…not bible proof texts set before testing of “claims”. The Roman Catholic tradition has a streak (Aquinas et al) which tries to rationally defend “God” and the moral tradition of the Judeo-Christian tradition by way of “natural law” arguments and such. Even so, that is not the business of furthering claims that the Scriptures are biographies of Jesus. The NT. bears witness to the Church’s faith in Jesus…what the faith is…and how it manifests itself in Christians according to internal (tribal) Christian self-understanding. This is not to say that the NT is a monolith. The NT also bears the marks of 1st century disagreements within the Christian movement…i.e. the disagreements between Paul and the Jewish Christians…be they under James or in the community of the authors of Hebrews or Revelation. That the NT has not whitewashed and erased its obvious recording of disagreement is testimony to its authenticity as a collection of early Church documents which were operationally of authoritative value to the communities which collated and structured the texts for their own use which was reaffirmation of their already resident faith in Jesus and their mission in that faith.

    Which brings us to authentic biography of Jesus. In truth, that biography is written now. As Christians respond in mercy to refugees of the Middle East, they write the story of Jesus in showing that such mercy is Jesus. And as Christians do not show mercy, they write the story that refusal to do mercy is not Jesus. The world, even atheists, already knows the difference. How did that happen?

    • 90Lew90

      How convenient that you can get yourself to a point — very circuitously — where you can say that the Bible both is and isn’t true. Only in religion…

      • Yonah

        Yes, only in religion. It is indeed conveniently funny that you are dismayed that religionists don’t play fair. Here, certainly not. Different culture. Anyway, as the biblical record will show in many instances the word “true” has entirely different meaning in the authentic Judeo-Christian tradition in comparison to the atheist scientific schtick things whateveryouwanttocall it. For when Jesus says that he is “true”, he does not step up to Bob’s empirical claims evidence thang…but steps up to Pilate, looks him square in the eyes and haggles with Pilate about just what “truth” is.

        Lewis Black has an old youtube on how Christians misinterpret the OT…but, it’s okay…”it’s not their fault…because it’s not their book.” Same deal regarding atheists and the Bible at large. You have no idea what you’re looking…not your fault…because it’s not your book.

        • 90Lew90

          I’m afraid that won’t wash. I might say that “truth” in religion is a terrible corruption of the meaning of a term for an important concept. This happens a lot. Christians have done it to “love” also. What it indicates is a lack of integrity. And you would have it that I’m not understanding properly because the Bible is not my book? It’s as much mine as it is yours; it’s just that I don’t have to perform intellectual contortions to wring the meaning out of it that you would like it to have. Mainly because it has no such meaning.

          Christianity makes universal truth-claims and the point of it is that these are accessible to all, to the point that they should be self-evident. Plainly, it’s truth-claims are not self-evident and hardly any of them stand up to scrutiny. If they did, there would be no need for the crimes of heresy or blasphemy, both of which have been enforced with hideous consequences down the ages.

          There have been myriad men and women every bit as brave as Jesus supposedly was in defying authority (and we must allow room for doubt about the tale of him defying Pilate, mustn’t we). He just wasn’t that special. The main thing that makes him remarkable to me is that he initiated the fall of the richest seam of philosophy and science the world had ever seen until finally it recovered in the 16th and 17th Centuries in defiance of the authority of his church. That to me is an ignominious legacy and that legacy includes Islam, which could never have come about if it wasn’t for the dear old Christians.

          Moreover, it became so threadbare by the early Middle Ages it had to recover the Hellenistic thought that it stamped out in order to give it some intellectual meat to survive on. It is parasitic. It parasitizes language, it parasitizes what might be called the spiritual impulse common to us all, and as you’ve just done, it wants to tell people that that impulse in them is inauthentic unless we interpret it via the guff that it presents as “truth”. Well fuck that, frankly. I think I’m entitled to some dismay over that and I also think I’m entitled to scoff at you over it. I mean, where do you get off? When your religion was imposed on people, individuals could be forgiven for toeing the line.

          You? You have no excuse.

        • Yonah

          Your first paragraph pertains to Bob’s focus on the Pauline corpus, and I suppose, the NT more generally as some perceived attempt at biographically historizing (to make up a word) Jesus. Your subsequent paragraphs do not treat Bob’s topic, but are rather general assertions that atheists always make…if you will, the atheist litany or liturgy.
          But, I am impressed that you aspire to make the Bible….and here, specifically, the NT “yours.” If such is the case we should discuss the actual text…that is the Greek…in each perceived “claim” you wish to address. For instance, let us take Ioannein 15:1:
          Ego eimi he ampelos he alethine…
          Since this verse employs the central word you are concerned with alethine, the question is then begged as to your definition of that word in itself…in the Greek and what Jesus means by saying Ego eimi he ampelos he alethine. It’s a claim, but how would you subject that claim to your evidence standard?

        • 90Lew90

          My first and second paragraphs pertain to the corruption of language in the Christian religion and the term you’re reaching for is ‘historicize’. You can take what Bob has said as standing apart from what I say to you and you’ve ignored what I’ve said to you.

          The phrase: “Ego eimi he ampelos he alethine” translates as “I am the true vine”. That’s quite obviously metaphor, because Jesus didn’t have grapes growing out of him as far as I’m aware. It’s the kind of egotistical polemical talk typical of him which not much is said about from the pulpit. You’ll have heard of poetic license. Ascribing these words to Jesus is taking just that, and apart from anything else, Jesus didn’t speak Greek, so we must allow for a margin of error at least in the translation.

          The point and the problem with poetry is that it is supposed to be open to interpretation and ‘ownership’. That’s part of what is enriching about literature. Anyone can argue what it means to him, or how it affected him. That argument or perspective can not be taken away from the individual. That’s what’s missed by people obsessed with the Bible. Often they’ve read little else and the ones who take it really seriously suffer the cost of not encountering other serious literature which does exactly the same thing. In the corpus of literature we have amassed by now we have accounts of the whole of what it is to be human. Part of the appeal of the Bible is that it’s exotic and familiar at once. That is the essence of poetry. It’s not a god at work, it’s other people making you feel less alone.

          Put like that, the sayings of Jesus — taken as just another guy — make him sound like a nut case. Paul also. Delusions that you are a god or that you have a direct line to a god are very common in the mentally ill. I’m inclined to think that Jesus was probably schizophrenic and Paul (the majority say) was epileptic or else he had delusions of being anointed in some way also.

          This has little to do with what we understand in the English language as “truth”. The search for that stuff has underpinned all philosophy, all science and all religion but it’s only the latter that has refused to accept at all — never mind with the humility that would be appropriate — that truth is beyond our grasp and that we can only make tentative claims about things as we carry on discovering. Religions are a block to that. They’re comfort blankets. They’re a truly well-sucked thumb. Does that make them comfort blankets or well-sucked thumbs? No, not any more than it makes Jesus a shrub of grapes.

          Are we there yet?

          If not: the closest apprehension of truth that is available to us must be sustained by evidence which is demonstrable and repeatable. And your myth falls far short of that standard. It is claptrap and it is harmful. It is harmful because it is totalitarian and the dislike of totalitarianism I imagine you would profess runs completely contrary to the other totalitarianism in yourself which you hold dear but choose to ignore, or else are too stupid to see.

          If these arguments seem repetitive it’s because they are sound and they’ve never been sufficiently answered.

        • Yonah

          But, the topic at hand is the actual text of the NT…what it actually is doing. Impugning personages is a sideshow. You claimed to be able to make the Bible your own. Really? Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew and a learned grasp of historical and cultural context, and proficiency with narrative techniques in the Jewish tradition? “Metaphore”….well, so what? The question is, metaphore for what? Beside your re-run of Jesus-hate, there is the question of just what the author of any NT text is up to. Who the author is matters. Who the author’s audience matters. And you ain’t either…you simply do not have access to the context which you verify by not even addressing what a NT author means by alethine irrespective of Jesus speaking Aramaic, and irrespective of scholarship which may question if whether Jesus himself really said the saying. The question is…what is the author of the text saying? Bob will complain that there’s no reliable biography of Jesus to be found in the NT…and the author of John’s Gospel, or Revelation, or Paul..or those who wrote in Paul’s name would respond, “So what?”

          Ego eimi he ampelos he alithine is just not a copy/paste/google…”oh, it’s just a metaphore.”
          alithine has a meaning different than the “true” Bob pursues. And the meaning the author is writing goes to the function of the statement in the author’s agenda. Ego eime he ampelos he alithine is a political statement in the context of real politics. And, you didn’t know that….”bible scholar”.

        • 90Lew90

          But, the topic at hand is the actual text of the NT…what it actually is doing. Impugning personages is a sideshow. You claimed to be able to make the Bible your own. Really? Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew and a learned grasp of historical and cultural context, and proficiency with narrative techniques in the Jewish tradition? “Metaphore”….

          The point of the Bible, surely, is that it is accessible to anyone, and Jesus clearly intended his word to be accessible to anyone or else he wouldn’t have made up parables for numbskulls. Do you have the learning you say is required to properly ‘get’ the Bible? I doubt it, because if you had, you wouldn’t have misspelt ‘metaphor’. Twice.

          I don’t “hate” Jesus any more than I hate Icarus. What you appear to be doing is to try to put the Bible on a high shelf, up there with the porn.

          The Bible is as much mine as it is yours, as much as any book. The Bible really is not that special. The amount of study devoted to it is because of its influence, and because of its truth-claims. You can’t turn round and say that because none of it stands up to any scrutiny that all the people who have studied it had their hearts in the wrong place or just plain don’t get it. The you-just-don’t-geddit line is a common tactic deployed by Christians who have come unstuck.

          I never claimed to be a Bible scholar, so your direct quoting of me is fabrication.

          You’re just blethering. Dung.

        • Yonah

          I dun misspelt worsed that that many a time. A couple of nights ago I was at a parish bored meeting, and the sekretary pointed out that he had misspelt some dung in the minutes from the last meeting. He meant to write that he had passed some forms out, but he wrote that he had assed them out.
          So. You read a translation, and you think that is good enough. Many would disagree, if one wants to speak about what biblical texts actually are doing. You, with Bob, go fundy when you say “The Bible” as if it is one book with one point. To use Walter Brueggemann’s language, the Bible is polyphonic. This is so on more than one count. First, you obviously have different genres. Second, obviously there are different authors and audiences, but more important to that point is the fact is that the different authors and audiences reflect just not “different points of view”, but many times violent disagreement. I am surprised that a learned atheist would not attempt to use that fact to his/her rhetorical advantage. But, apparently, you prefer the fundy paradigm as it’s low hanging fruit.
          Bob’s original assertion is that Paul is unreliable because he didn’t know the historical Jesus. To use one of Bob’s saying, yes, there is “violent agreement” to be had here on that.
          Now, there are some funny things going on here. First, Paul never claimed to be on a task of biography…certainly not of the historical Jesus, as Paul’s personal testimony (claim) is that he had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus in a vision. But, even that was just a reference in passing to his main task and that was letter writing to congregations which he had planted and was attempting to keep from falling apart both communally and theologically. Now, I am giddy with amusement that, apparently, both you and Bob imagine that one day, about 2000 thousand years ago, ol’ Paul just got up one day and said to himself, “I think I’m jist gonna sit me down and write Bob and Lew in 2015 Land a letter…just throw that dung puppy in the time machine and let ‘er rip…maybe it’ll git thar.”
          So. Fine. If Paul’s letters are so clear to you….tell us:
          When Paul says Jesus is “kyrios”.
          What does Paul mean?

        • 90Lew90

          I’ve said to you before that what Bob says is what Bob says and we don’t speak with one voice. I’ve also said to you that I’m not a Bible scholar, although I have some interest in the meaning of the term toevah in relation to the hideous homophobia your religion has begotten.

          Everything else you’ve said just stands to confirm my original point that the Bible is literature and stands in the literary canon along with all other literature. It is remarkable only because it was presented as being true and people believed it to be true. You seem to accept that it’s not, and while accepting that it’s not, you imply that the truth of it is under lock and key and accessible only to a few who go about unlocking its truth in the right way. That’s just woo-woo. You’re bullshitting.

        • Yonah

          As Lewis Black says of our people, “And, what we’re really good at is bullshit.”
          It still remains that Bob wrote a blog. I commented upon it sticking to his topic, and you are all over the map. I do not care what your original point was, whatever it was, because I was discussing Bob’s original point, which I find interesting.
          Paul’s letters were not written to or for atheists. He just wasn’t that much into you.
          So then you jump to Leviticus??? If so, apparently you never got the memo that Torah is revised…continuously. It’s not your fault. You did not get the memo because you are not Jewish.

        • 90Lew90

          Run. Run away. Is it any wonder fewer and fewer people are bothering to argue with you lot any more? I took you to task on a comment you made, and the entire thread of your response has been to say that I don’t properly understand your chosen book. My heart’s not in the right place or I’ve not given it the scholarly attention it deserves (never mind that you haven’t either, although you did to pretend you had). Enlighten me then. Show me my error. Otherwise I’m going to have to conclude that you’re peddling bollocks. And you’re peddling extremely hard, like a fucking duck, to get anywhere but from the main point, which is that what you believe is a nonsense, and if exposed as such, it leaves you looking like a complete fool. No amount of shouting or evasion or digression or anything you can do detracts from the basic fact that what you believe is nonsense. Saying it’s both true and untrue at the same time just compounds the nonsense of it. Maybe you should consider that you’re being an idiot and you’ve been sold a pup.

        • Yonah

          As for Paul, he is happy for all this to be nonsense to you…i.e. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
          But again, I am impressed that you claim to be a master of literature, and apparently, you count a letter of Paul and the Book of Revelation, somehow as one book with one point. Hmmm. What point? My graduate training taught me that the author of Revelation had his problem for writing 7 letters, and Paul had various problems he was trying to solve with his letters. Where is your “true” in all of that? For instance, why is Paul writing the Galatians? Why is the author of Revelation writing his letters. Both are writing from an opposing agenda. Paul and the author of Revelation do not agree. What is the issue?

        • 90Lew90

          It’s a non-issue because I don’t give a shit about trying to untangle the Gordian knot. It’s you who believes it makes a comprehensible, tangible, coherent whole, not me. And you’re arguing in the face of yourself with this. How bent can a mind get? It’s pathetic to watch this unfold time after time with you people. You’re fucked. Excuse the expletives, or turn the other cheek or something, but you really are infuriating, particularly when one is not in the fucking mood for you.

        • Yonah

          I think you are starting to get it. Paul was not trying to be reliable to you.

        • 90Lew90

          Who was he trying to be reliable to then? Just gullible twats?

        • MNb

          Of course. Except that it’s a bit unfair to call them gullible twats, because nearly everyone back then was one, including a great mind like Aristoteles. For one thing the separation of a natural and a supernatural reality didn’t make any sense to them.

        • Yonah

          He was writing letters to congregations he founded because of problems going on in the congregations. His faith statements in the letters are not new statements to his congregations, but reminders. Paul did not have your postal address.

        • You’re saying that understanding Paul is very difficult at this far remove? I can accept that. How does that advance your point?

        • Yonah

          It depends on who the reader is and what text. If the reader has been schooled in the text, it’s not that hard.
          In a narrow sense, I agree with you. I have never understood the evangelical fundamentalist assumption that people come to faith by showing them a book or citing a book. It makes no sense, and it certainly was not the practice of Jesus or the early Church. Not even Luther had such an idea. Yes, when pressed on the issue of authority when he was being interrogated by Catholic authorities, thinking on his feet, he declared “sola scriptura”, but that was in regard to official doctrine to be taught…not how people come to faith in the first place. On that, Luther, as did the early Church, held that people come to faith by work of the Holy Spirit. In practical terms, what that meant in the early Church is that people were brought in through relationship…and that even gradually. Back then the Church was more like the Masonic Lodge…a secret society on guard from the culture and the state as the Church was an illegal movement. Still in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy today is retained the ancient practice of sending the catechumens out of the sanctuary before the main part of the service begins…because of the ancient concern over whether the catechumens had yet earned the right to be trusted with the faith. In general, it was only after people had become part of the group that they got full instruction which may have included some texts, but mostly oral teaching with oral tradition along with the teaching inherent in liturgy and art. But, what brought people to the group in the first place? Not a book. But, common cause….both political and economic. Middle Eastern religion always starts with doing stuff for people…food, housing, health, communal protection against an oppressor. Jesus own preaching methodology did that…..then, the texts come out. The point is that relationship both precedes and trumps text…actually the text only exists because of the relationship…which is transferred generationally.
          So, to me, trying to use Paul to convert someone to Christianity cold makes no sense. But, if someone has a life experience akin to Paul’s, then his text will make sense to him/her in terms of faith in Jesus.

    • busterggi

      “As Christians respond in mercy to refugees of the Middle East”

      Clearly you do not consider Republicans and conservative Europeans to be ‘real’ Christians as they oppose aid to these refugees.

      • Yonah

        The make-up of the opposers is a mixed bag. A minority are true butthole non-Christians, even anti-Christians. The rest are the misled. When I was a school teacher, it was the same. In a misbehaving class, very few are “gangsters”…the rest of the misbehaving children are just sucked in…until they aren’t. Things can change.

  • primenumbers

    “How Reliable is Apostle Paul When He Knew Very Little About Jesus?
    ” – might be better asked as:
    “How Reliable is Apostle Paul When all he knows about Jesus comes from reading scripture and revelation?”

    • Pofarmer

      But how many times have you seen the Canard from theists that revelation is a valid source of information?

      • primenumbers

        And that’s the issue right there, isn’t it. If you think revelation is a valid source of information, you’d have to be a Muslim Christian Mormon Scientologist! (and no doubt quite mad believing them all to be true).

        • Pofarmer

          Im sure they can all be harmonized somehow.

        • primenumbers

          Yes, I think they can…. Um…. Let me think…. Um…. Atheism perhaps?

        • Pofarmer

          I think that’s “out of bounds” as it were.

        • busterggi

          Throw Raelian in there and I just might consider joining.

  • wtfwjtd

    In thinking of Paul’s theology, it becomes clear that two characters are essential: Jesus and Adam (I Cor 15, and others). Whether Paul’s Jesus is recent, or in the distant past, he unfortunately isn’t very clear. Some of the commenters here, including myself, like to cuss and discuss the details and inner workings of Paul’s Jesus. However, there is another aspect of Paul’s theology that I’ve been thinking about lately…
    Paul also depends on a historical Adam for his theology to work; the whole framework collapses without him. While science can’t tell us much more than we already know about Jesus, and leaves us arguing over (admittedly trivial) details about him, science does speak definitively about whether or not there was a historical Adam. With the advances in genetics within the last decade or so we can, beyond reasonable doubt, rule out the Biblical claim of one couple as being responsible for all of humanity. Here’s a great article about this topic from a real biologist, Jerry Coyne: https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/adam-and-eve-the-ultimate-standoff-between-science-and-faith-and-a-contest/

    I know this isn’t news to many of us here, but it’s a great reminder that there is more than one way to dismantle Paul’s theology, dependent as it is on both Jesus and Adam. We can also use this science to definitively refute one of Christianity’s most basic claims: that of a single pair of humans, who committed the “original sin” that is the basis for virtually the whole of Christianity’s belief system.
    Apologetics is a entertaining enterprise for many of us here, but it’s good to have other relatively simple avenues for showing that Christianity is demonstrably false, using modern science. And broadening the topic a little to evolution, the genetic evidence for evolution is probably even more overwhelming than the mountains of physical evidence that confirms it. For refuting religious claims, it don’t get much better than this.

    • But then, of course, the progressive Christians will facepalm and tell you how narrow your idea of Christianity is. They don’t imagine Adam to be literal, so therefore your argument is meaningless.

      • wtfwjtd

        True, the use of science here is more effective for dismantling fundamentalist Christianity, and more literal forms of Catholicism. But still, without that whole “original sin” thing, the crucifixion narrative becomes pretty meaningless. I find that in general, the forms of Christianity that accept evolution and science in general tend to be somewhat less obnoxious and problematic. And they still have the uncomfortable task of reconciling this with their static belief system, which in my experience has lead to a lot of dead ends and “only God knows” statements.

  • David Beddow

    If you consider the martyrdom of Stephen where Paul – then named Saul – held the cloaks and gave approval for the execution it becomes apparent that he at least knew of Jesus even if he didn’t actually meet him in person. As a Pharisee of the Pharisees – his own description

    The fact that Paul’s writings, not including Hebrews whose author is unknown, don’t include a biography does not discount him from knowing the story of Jesus’ life. His writings were not intended as a biography but as a way of teaching converts to Christianity who had already heard the story of Jesus. They were not written while he was at those churches, but from a distance after the churches were already existing and as such would not need to include the story itself. If I write about the tactics of Battle of Waterloo I don’t need to include a full biography of the participants, just what happened and what can be learned going forward.

    I could point out that Paul was a Pharisee – the sect that ordered Jesus to be executed – and a contemporary of Jesus. He may even have been among those who called for the crucifixion. But I’m sure you’d ignore that.

    I could point out that ancient non-Christian historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Julius Africanus, Origen and Pliny the Younger all refer to Jesus directly in their texts and the issues raised by the early believers. But like most people who seek to debunk the very existence of Jesus I’m sure you’ll ignore these non-canonical sources as well.

    Paul’s own words describe him as a Pharisee – a sect that believed in resurrection and strict adherence to Old Testament Law – rather than a Sadducee – the sect that most closely resembles modern atheism in their belief this life is all there is – in the following passage:
    “Some of the men in the meeting were Sadducees [Jewish religious party with most influence in the Jewish high court (Sanhedrin) and among the Temple leadership; 4:1], and others were Pharisees [religious party that strictly observed OT laws and added traditions; 5:34]. ·Knowing [or Realizing] this, Paul ·shouted [called out] ·to them [in the council/Sanhedrin], “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, ·and my father was a Pharisee [or descended from Pharisees;  a son of Pharisees]. I am on trial here because ·I believe that people will rise from the dead [of the hope and the resurrection].”” (Acts 23 verse 6 – Expanded Version)

    As mentioned, the Pharisees were the dominant force for the execution of Jesus.

    I lack the ability to read ancient Greek or Hebrew so rely on using multiple translations of the Bible to find the full meaning in any passage. Some words are translated differently depending on the context used. I am told that Paul chooses his words very carefully to avoid ambiguity in his letters by men who can read the original texts.

    I don’t expect my opinion or facts mentioned above to persuade you to change your compass heading, but I will part with a paraphrase of CS Lewis. I believe the concept was mentioned in his book “Mere Christianity”: If a man sees a line and declares it to be crooked he must have a concept of what a straight line must be. Where does this concept come from in his consciousness? There must be a part of him that can recognise what a straight line is, even if he has never seen one.

    I’d recommend “Mere Christianity” as an academic reading exercise. CS Lewis himself was, after all, a Don at both Magdalen College in Oxford University and Magdalene College at Cambridge University. He was also an atheist for many years prior to coming to believe.

    Try reading that book, and another of his, “Surprised by Joy”, with an open mind and an intellectual mindset. He is far more eloquent than I could ever be, and he COULD read the original languages.

    At first glance the Bible seems confusing. There are more than one account of creation in Genesis, Adam and Eve being just one – and the one most atheists focus on. When examined from an open minded position the different oral traditions which came together to be written down as what we call Genesis have one single unifying factor: God made Humankind in His own image and gave us free will. We chose to turn against Him. The rest of the Bible is a love story of a loving God seeking to reconcile with his children and doing whatever it takes to let that happen.

    Consider that and try reading “Mere Christianity” and “Surprised by Joy”.

    • His writings were not intended as a biography but as a way of teaching converts to Christianity who had already heard the story of Jesus. They were not written while he was at those churches, but from a distance after the churches were already existing and as such would not need to include the story itself.

      No, that doesn’t prove he didn’t know the biographical details. Still, it’s yet more evidence that the story grew with time—from the epistles through the gospels.

      It’s surprising that in all Paul’s epistles, he doesn’t give any biographical detail that might be helpful to encourage newcomers (or even old timers). Not even something like, “Remember the story about when Jesus did X? That story is relevant during these difficult times.”

      He may even have been among those who called for the crucifixion. But I’m sure you’d ignore that.

      I marvel at your clairvoyance.

      I could point out that ancient non-Christian historians such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Julius Africanus, Origen and Pliny the Younger all refer to Jesus directly in their texts and the issues raised by the early believers.

      I’ve written about how that’s not true for Josephus in this blog (search and ye shall find). I haven’t researched the others in sufficient detail, but what little I’ve read is unimpressive. If you want to point out something exciting, go ahead.

      But like most people who seek to debunk the very existence of Jesus I’m sure you’ll ignore these non-canonical sources as well.

      Wrong again.

      I don’t expect my opinion or facts mentioned above to persuade you to change your compass heading

      You need to go into more detail to say something tangible. I suspect I’ll have a reaction.

      If a man sees a line and declares it to be crooked he must have a concept of what a straight line must be.

      What a coincidence—I wrote about that very thing in today’s blog post.

      I’d recommend “Mere Christianity” as an academic reading exercise.

      I’ve read it twice.

      He was also an atheist for many years prior to coming to believe.

      Not like I am. He wouldn’t have so many poorly thought-out arguments if he were.

      At first glance the Bible seems confusing.

      Do you think I’m a complete amateur? I’ve been doing this blog for 4 years. Poke around and I hope you’ll come across some provocative ideas.

      There are more than one account of creation in Genesis, Adam and Eve being just one – and the one most atheists focus on.

      Been there, lampooned that.

      The rest of the Bible is a love story of a loving God seeking to reconcile with his children and doing whatever it takes to let that happen.

      I like the part of the love story about when he drowned the world. What a twist! I didn’t see that coming.

      • David Beddow

        There’s more than a little latent hostility in our conversation here. If my comment inflamed that then I apologise wholeheartedly.

        I appreciate from your writing that you are not a novice and you are sincere in your beliefs. I too am not a novice having been preaching and writing on and off for almost 25 years.

        I’ll have a look at the rest of your blog to see this article in its overall context.

        Just a small item:

        ” Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper
        opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so
        he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the
        brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some
        others;” – Written by Josephus in Book 20, Chapter 9. A direct reference to the historical existence of Jesus.

        As to the story of the flood: whether taken literally or as a parable the message of the story is that God had wanted to purge the sin that would draw mankind away from a relationship with Him. Noah wand his sons were the last remaining faithful men and so it was through them that a covenant with man was made, the promise being symbolised by the rainbow in the story. There is much in the Old Testamnet that could either be historical or parable – the entire book of Job as the best example. These books were written to show an element of God rather than be literal.

        I’m sure you have guessed that I am something of a fundamentalist in my beliefs, but I reject the term. I believe there is sufficient evidence for evolution and intelligent design to co-exist in harmony. The sequence of creation in Genesis matches the sequence of evolution geology and paleontology gives us and the word translated “day” in Genesis I am told by several sources can mean a literal 24 hour period or an indeterminate length of time. The Bible does not say the seventh day ended and a friend who is a geologist once told me we live now in what would be the seventh major geological time period. I must stress I have never studied the subject personally so I only have his word to go on.

        Paul’s writing was teaching, not biographical in its nature. Before he wrote a single letter that is included in the New Testament he studied for ten years. He also primarily travelled to areas of non-Jewish descent, Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Athens for example. The time he spent in each place would have been ample for him to have told and retold the story and the leaders of the churches would have been able to relate to their relevance to the stories of Jesus’ life. For him to mention them would be superfluous and parchment was not cheap to come by.

        It is generally believed that what we refer to as Mark’s Gospel may actually have been relayed by Peter to Mark as there are certain little details in there that are not included in the other synoptic Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The best example is of the boy running away naked from the garden when Jesus is arrested.

        Also please consider for a moment that the Christian faith has endured 2000 years so far and will undoubtedly continue for many more to come. Modern atheism was contrived in the late 19th century as science provided facts and theories, each of which has gradually been supplanted by more facts and theories. The central tenets of Christianity have held solid for all that time, and when men have begun to pervert the tenets there has always been something that has moved the church back to the original meanings. The crusades were genocide and ethnic cleansing, but a deeper understanding of the Gospel led to their cessation. When the Inquisition was initiated it was eventually abated, again by men who recognised that to believe is a choice.

        Men like Martin Luther, John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield and many others have sought successfully for centuries to bring Christianity back to it’s original meaning.

        There are many charlatans out there today who use their perverted interpretation of the Bible to generate profits for their own pockets. I find it disgusting, but it’s nothing new.

        There are many philosophical points I’m sure we can agree on, specifically when it comes to the moral nature of the world and the need for guidance to rescue mankind from religious extremists be they Christian, Muslim or Atheist in their views. Religious beliefs are not contingent on the belief in a deity or higher power. My neighbour religiously washes and polishes hic car every Saturday – it’s simply a pattern of behaviour.

        Again, it was not my intention to engage in an acrimonious conversation, simply a debate to the salient points of each argument.

        • I too am not a novice having been preaching and writing on and off for almost 25 years.

          I’m sure you know much that I don’t.

          Written by Josephus in Book 20, Chapter 9. A direct reference to the historical existence of Jesus.

          That’s debatable. I’m glad you didn’t put forward the Testimonium Flavianum. I write about both passages here. In brief: Richard Carrier has a compelling argument that even this second passage is not referring to Jesus Christ.

          As to the story of the flood: whether taken literally or as a parable

          Which way to you take it?

          The problem with parables is that the message is in the mind of the reader. You say that God wanted to purge sin. I read it and draw a much less charitable message.

          God had wanted to purge the sin that would draw mankind away from a relationship with Him.

          Apparently it didn’t work. Do we assume that even the Almighty have to use trial and error sometimes?

          the promise being symbolised by the rainbow in the story

          (You’re familiar with the rainbow = archery bow idea? God was putting up his war bow so everyone could see that he wouldn’t do that again. Not especially relevant, but FYI.)

          I believe there is sufficient evidence for evolution and intelligent design to co-exist in harmony

          The problem is when meddlers want to have ID labeled as science and taught in public schools. That’s crossing the line, I’m afraid.

          The sequence of creation in Genesis matches the sequence of evolution geology

          We’ve learned nothing scientific from the Bible. We get all our science from Science. In terms of teaching us things about the natural world, the Bible’s track record is nonexistent.

          Also note the contradictions between the two Genesis stories (more here).

          the word translated “day” in Genesis I am told by several sources can mean a literal 24 hour period or an indeterminate length of time

          I recommend against shoehorning the Genesis story into reality. It uses Sumerian cosmology (more here), in which our land floats on water and has a water canopy above. Yep—all that is in the Bible.

          For him to mention them would be superfluous and parchment was not cheap to come by.

          He mentions the crucifixion about 13 times just in the authentically Pauline epistles. Surely they knew that part very well. And not a single healing miracle, or miracle of any kind. Not a single parable. And so on. It’s not like some of these epistles weren’t long.

          If you’re saying that this doesn’t prove Paul didn’t know the biography of Jesus as (more or less) recorded in the gospels, I agree. My point is simply that this supports the idea of a Jesus that grew with time, as a legend.

          It is generally believed that what we refer to as Mark’s Gospel may actually have been relayed by Peter to Mark

          You do realize that the authorship of the 4 gospels is very tenuous, right? More here.

          the Christian faith has endured 2000 years so far and will undoubtedly continue for many more to come

          Astrology has lasted even longer. I hope you’re not saying that longevity = accuracy, especially when pre-scientific civilization didn’t have an alternative to the supernatural until a couple of centuries ago.

          Modern atheism was contrived in the late 19th century as science provided facts and theories, each of which has gradually been supplanted by more facts and theories.

          Are you saying that science can’t get its story right? That science has unanswered questions or that it corrects itself is a good thing. It has a pretty good track record for teaching us about reality. Christianity has none.

          The central tenets of Christianity have held solid for all that time, and when men have begun to pervert the tenets there has always been something that has moved the church back to the original meanings.

          There are 42,000 denominations of Christianity and counting. Christians are hardly zeroing in on the truth. They continue to fragment. You think you’ve got it figured out, but some other guy who also calls himself a Christian disagrees. You have nothing objective by which to correct the error.

          The crusades were genocide and ethnic cleansing, but a deeper understanding of the Gospel led to their cessation. When the Inquisition was initiated it was eventually abated, again by men who recognised that to believe is a choice.

          We dropped slavery, not because we realized that the Bible is against it (it’s not) but because Western society evolved.

          There are many charlatans out there today who use their perverted interpretation of the Bible to generate profits for their own pockets.

          What does it tell you about the clarity of the Christian message that this is possible? Wouldn’t an omniscient god know enough to get his message clearly on paper so that everyone would be marching by the same tune?

          religious extremists be they Christian, Muslim or Atheist in their views. Religious beliefs are not contingent on the belief in a deity or higher power.

          It’s hard to call something religious (except by analogy) if it has no supernatural beliefs.

        • David Beddow

          Ok, I’m going to address some of the issues you made as best I can.

          First off if I came across as arrogant by citing 25 years experience I apologise. From you Bio I’m guessing you’re a few years older than me. The comment was not intended as disparaging or disregarding your own research. You cite texts I’ve never read and some I’ve never heard of. I respect your position and it is not my intention to try to “convert” you, simply to gain a better understanding of an atheist’s perspective on Faith.

          As you note, I use the term “religious” in my comment as analogy.

          Also, I’m sure you may be aware that the first people to be called “atheist” were the Christians in the first century. The Romans called them that because they rejected their gods and considered them godless.

          A central tenet in all the denominations I’ve worked with has been that of free will. I acknowledge that it is a small number compared with the total, but bear in mind that many denominations have been formed due to language barriers – there are 11 official languages in South Africa alone (I currently live in Cape Town), each with their own form of how to worship God in the form of Jesus but differing vastly because of how the teachings are translated and applied to their unique cultures. By the time you factor in all the other languages spoken around the world, 46000 denominations starts to make more sense. I don’t expect my messages, written or otherwise, to be relevant to all because my own bias growing up in England and living in South Africa colours my experience of God.

          As to the subject of miracles, Paul refers in his letters to Spiritual Gifts, but for miracles we need to read Acts as it was written by the physician, Luke, who travelled with Paul and witnessed the miracles themselves. In Acts 19 several miracles are recorded: verse 6 records the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues, verses 11 & 12 recount how miracles of healing were sent by means of what today are referred to as “prayer cloths” in certain evangelical churches. In Acts 15 v 12 we hear that Paul and Barnabas tell of miracles performed by them although the details are not given. Acts 16 tells of an exorcism of an evil spirit from a woman – perhaps not something recognised today, but even if this was simply a healing of a condition such as schizophrenia it is significant.

          Returning to the topic of free will, the Bible, and Paul’s writing in particular, make it clear that the key to Christianity is a choice. God does not force Himself on us and He will defend our choices we make in this life. Thus if we, by choice, accept the sacrifice of Christ, we will be accepted by Him. If we reject it we will be judged according to His Law and Christ’s sacrifice provides no protection from His Justice.

          We need to bear in mind that Jewish tradition as practiced in the first century was still an oral tradition. Stories were taught rote from one generation to the next as a part of daily life, word for word in a way Westerners like you and me can’t fully grasp – my apologies if this assumption is erroneous. I have a reasonably good memory but I’m terrible at remembering quotes and as a result I have a growing library of quotes from a variety of secular and Christian authorities, including Darwin, Steven Hawking and one or two other noted atheists. As I said, I seek to understand your position.

          My point of an oral tradition is simply this: Churches Paul founded would have been taught by him in the oral tradition while he was there. the letters were written to be conveyed after he had left and oral communication was simply impossible as Alexander Graham Bell wouldn’t appear for some time. This is a possible reason for the absence of anecdotes and history in the writings in addition to the costs.

          The issue of slavery is a complex one. The jews were told not to take slaves in the conquest of the Holy Land. Slaves – from a Biblical standpoint – were men and families who were financially destitute with debts and essentially went to work as servants for no wage for their creditors. Mosaic Law, specifically referring to the Year of Jubilee, the fiftieth year, was a tear set aside where all debts were to be cancelled, slaves released and land returned to it’s original owners. As far as I know the provision in the Jewish law was never enacted, although I am open to correction. That was why when Jesus announced He was the Messiah He did it by declaring the “Year of the Lord’s Favour” in Luke 4 – the Greek equivalent of a Jubilee year. The Old Testament Prophets had said only the Messiah would declare Jubilee had come.

          Jesus was not pro-slavery and the slavers who used the Bible to condone it were undone largely by the work of William Wilberforce and his allies who understood the real meaning and that one man should not claim to be a Christian and also claim ownership of another human being. Scripture makes it clear through both Testaments that although slavery existed it was against God’s plan. Paul’s letters include this. There is evidence of a slave naned Onesimus returning to his owner having run away and the owner and slave both having become Christians were urged by Paul to accept one another as Brothers.

          As to the issue of the charlatans, that speaks to the motive in men’s hearts. I despise preaching for personal gain. Again, it is an example of free will being allowed by God.

          Reality is relative. What science “knew” 200 years ago has changed radically as we discover new facts. Christianity is concerned with Truth, a philosophical stance, rather than Facts, the scientific approach.

          I agree Intelligent Design should probably not be taught as a science but as a humanity showing there can be harmony between science and religion. Many of the greatest minds of the reformation, including Da Vinci, were Christians and believed their scientific discoveries to be revelations about the world from God to them. I have a good friend who is a nuclear physicist who tels me his study of his field has actually deepened his faith as the perfect mathematics to produce a molecule are too intricate to be a mere accident. The probability of life itself is simply mathematically so remote as to be not worth considering, yet here we are, enjoying an intellectual discussion about opposing viewpoints with what I hope are no hard feelings on either side, merely an acknowledgment of the other party’s perspective.

          Any scholar is aware of the issues of the authorship of the gospels. The way they are written and the time at which they first appeared suggests they were written by witnesses to the life of Jesus initially – particularly John’s Gospel. But yes, I am aware of the debates.

          I agree Sumerian cosmology has no place in an accurate description. They simply tried to make sense of the world around them. The water is blue, the sky is blue, therefore the sky is water. As oversimplified as the concept of the four elements of fire earth air and water. My comment was simply an illustration that we should not discount all the information in Genesis as analogy.

          I’m not familiar with the Testimonium Flavianum, but will certainly research it to broaden my mind.

          Longevity certainly does not equate to correctness. But if we consider, as Paul did, that Christianity is simply a branch of Judaism then it has been around longer than any other organised religion still practiced. I used to dabble in astrology before fully committing to Christ and found it to be a place of death and depression where Christianity was a place of hope and light. I’m not saying my life is easy as a Christian, far from it, bu it is y Faith that gives me the strength to overcome the challenges I face professionally and personally.

          I admit I considered not responding to your question about the flood. What research I have done indicates that the religions I have been able to find out about all contain a strikingly similar account of a great flood covering the earth and only a handful of survivors. From a Spiritual perspective I see it as God delivering Justice – the wages of Sin being death and Noah was the only righteous man left. From a physical perspective I don’t know enough about geology to be able to say conclusively or anthropology to give a scientific answer, but I don’t rule out a literal flood. I believe from what I know that to do so with the evidence I have – or rather the lack of it – would be foolish at this point. I prefer to stick to the Spiritual lessons to be learned.

          I enjoy intellectual conversation at this level. It is something I have lacked in recent years and am grateful you have taken the time and effort to respond to my writing.

          If you are interested in my beliefs you can find my own blog at eagleswingministries.blogspot.com

          Like you, my blog has been going a relatively short time, also around four years now. My other experience has been church based local articles and preaching. Also like you, I’m certain we both began blogging after many years of experience.

        • First off if I came across as arrogant by citing 25 years experience I apologise. From you Bio I’m guessing you’re a few years older than me.

          Not a problem. You quite likely have more relevant experience than I do.

          it is not my intention to try to “convert” you, simply to gain a better understanding of an atheist’s perspective on Faith.

          Welcome!

          there are 11 official languages in South Africa alone (I currently live in Cape Town)

          Fascinating. That’s news to me.

          By the time you factor in all the other languages spoken around the world, 46000 denominations starts to make more sense.

          I understand how it happens, but this doesn’t address the issue. The omniscient creator of the universe gives his message, and it gets more and more fragmented as time goes on? The guy can’t make it clear the first time? It looks more like this was a manmade thing.

          we need to read Acts as it was written by the physician, Luke, who travelled with Paul and witnessed the miracles themselves.

          Again, we don’t know who wrote the gospels.

          In Acts 19 several miracles are recorded

          I don’t consider it history.

          Acts 16 tells of an exorcism of an evil spirit from a woman – perhaps not something recognised today, but even if this was simply a healing of a condition such as schizophrenia it is significant.

          You and I know that mental illness isn’t caused by evil spirits. The people of that time did and—whaddya know?—that’s what we read that Jesus did. It’s almost like the New Testament was written by ordinary, uninspired people of that time and place.

          God does not force Himself on us and He will defend our choices we make in this life

          Is this “God cannot ravish, he can only woo” from C.S. Lewis? That’s crap. God’s existence being hidden is unjustifiable, given the consequences.

          if we, by choice, accept the sacrifice of Christ, we will be accepted by Him.

          No, it doesn’t work that way. Paul said, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). The problem and the correction are both automatic. It’s symmetric.

          We need to bear in mind that Jewish tradition as practiced in the first century was still an oral tradition. Stories were taught rote from one generation to the next as a part of daily life, word for word in a way Westerners like you and me can’t fully grasp – my apologies if this assumption is erroneous.

          Yes, I’m afraid it is erroneous. We have no good reason to imagine that rote learning played a significant role in the oral history phase of the gospel story. When someone heard a compelling story, they passed it on as best they could. There was no mechanism to make sure that no one repeated the story until it was flawless.

          I’m terrible at remembering quotes

          Ditto.

          The issue of slavery is a complex one.

          Only if you want to cloud the issue. The comparison for me is always with slavery in the U.S. In fact, they are very similar (more here).

          The jew s were told not to take slaves in the conquest of the Holy Land. Slaves – from a Biblical standpoint – were men and families who were financially destitute with debts and essentially went to work as servants for no wage for their creditors.

          Yes, that’s the popular apologetic. Read my post about slavery and see if there’s some new information there for you.

          Jesus was not pro-slavery

          Given that, it’s weird that he had time to wither a fig tree and tell stories but not let us know that slavery is wrong. Knowing how slavery would play out over the next 2000 years, wouldn’t that be at the top of his list?

          Scripture makes it clear through both Testaments that although slavery existed it was against God’s plan.

          Completely wrong. Addressed in my post on slavery.

          Paul’s letters include this. There is evidence of a slave naned Onesimus returning to his owner having run away and the owner and slave both having become Christians were urged by Paul to accept one another as Brothers.

          Paul tells Philemon to do him a favor and free Onesimus. Is this the best that the New Testament has to teach us that slavery was wrong??

          it is an example of free will being allowed by God.

          Don’t tell me that God cares about free will when he lets the free will of the rape victim be overturned so that the free will of the rapist can be satisfied.

          What science “knew” 200 years ago has changed radically as we discover new facts. Christianity is concerned with Truth, a philosophical stance, rather than Facts, the scientific approach.

          Christianity can concern itself with whatever it wants; it has nothing to show for it.

          Science delivers. Surely you appreciate this while we communicate using computers and the internet.

          I agree Intelligent Design should probably not be taught as a science

          No, it should absolutely not be taught as a science. This is very simple: it is not science. The scientific consensus gets taught in science class, and ID is not it.

          but as a humanity showing there can be harmony between science and religion.

          I don’t see much, but this seems to be a tangent.

          Many of the greatest minds of the reformation, including Da Vinci, were Christians and believed their scientific discoveries to be revelations about the world from God to them.

          That’s true. Now, a thought experiment: imagine your favorite Christian scientist since Jesus—da Vinci, Newton, whoever. Now transport them to our time and have them grow up in the West. You still think they’d be Christian? They were Christian because there was no alternative. Today, science actually explains things and shows its work. Christianity just makes shadow puppets on the wall.

          The probability of life itself is simply mathematically so remote as to be not worth considering

          Are you talking about abiogenesis? This isn’t much of an argument—once there develops a scientific consensus, you and your friend will just drop this argument and pick up some other puzzle science hasn’t answered yet.

          enjoying an intellectual discussion about opposing viewpoints with what I hope are no hard feelings on either side, merely an acknowledgment of the other party’s perspective.

          You’re very polite. That’s much appreciated. Not all Christians are.

          I tend to be terse in my comments, so you’ll have to excuse that—time is in short supply.

          Any scholar is aware of the issues of the authorship of the gospels. The way they are written and the time at which they first appeared suggests they were written by witnesses to the life of Jesus initially – particularly John’s Gospel. But yes, I am aware of the debates.

          I’m not so sure. Did you read my post about Papias and Eusebius on this subject? We have scant reason to believe this was eyewitness evidence. Matthew and Luke in particular are obviously not eyewitness testimony since they copy so much from Mark. A reporter does that, not an eyewitness.

          I agree Sumerian cosmology has no place in an accurate description.

          And yet you see that in Genesis, both in Genesis 1 and in the Noah story.

          we should not discount all the information in Genesis as analogy.

          Given how clearly flawed some parts are, it’s hard to know (besides just personal preference) which parts to keep and claim as history. Why isn’t the entire thing flawed?

          If you’re not familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis, I suggest starting with the Wikipedia summary and then reading Friedman’s Who wrote the Bible?

          I’m not familiar with the Testimonium Flavianum, but will certainly research it to broaden my mind.

          Perhaps you do, just not by that name. You gave the secondary reference to Jesus in Josephus. The Testimonium Flavianum is the far more popular one.

          Christianity is simply a branch of Judaism then it has been around longer than any other organised religion still practiced.

          Hinduism? Buddhism?

          the religions I have been able to find out about all contain a strikingly similar account of a great flood covering the earth and only a handful of survivors.

          Right. Stories like Gilgamesh were popular. That Genesis has one, too (and it wasn’t the first) makes it likely that they just tapped into the Zeitgeist.

          I don’t rule out a literal flood.

          Science has. I’ll go with the science.

        • Ron

          “Jesus was not pro slavery…” ~David Beddow

          The following two quotes indicate otherwise:

          “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. ~Jesus (Luke 12:47-48, NASB)

          “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” ~Jesus (Luke 17:7-10, NASB)

        • MNb

          “The sequence of creation in Genesis matches the sequence of evolution geology”
          This is simply incorrect.

          http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-ordercreation.html

          Point 1 is already wrong.
          So is point 2 – light is older than Earth.
          Point 12 and 7 is the wrong sequence – trees bearing fruit came long after water creatures.

          Now I’m not arguing that Evolution Theory disproves or even contradicts religion. It doesn’t as shown here:

          http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/faq-god.html

          “Modern atheism was contrived in the late 19th century as science provided facts and theories”
          Actually late 18th Century – notably Baron d’Holbach, while it also has been rumoured that David Hume was an unbeliever.

        • Josh Ross

          Read a few chapters later, the Jesus and james mentioned were the sons of someone named “Damus” or something along those lines. And we know Joseph was the father of Jesus, James, Simon, etc and some sisters of Jesus

  • XCellKen

    Let us look to the Book of Mormon to discover the biographical facts about the Angel Moroni

    The stories of Moroni were legends which grew over time.