Saint Paul Never Read the Bible

We interrupt this transmission for a piece of Christian chronology. Did you know that the Epistles of Saint Paul are the oldest writings in the New Testament? Did you know that Mark, the oldest of the Gospels, was written just about the time of Paul’s execution in AD 64/65? Though Mark had worked as a secretary to Saint Peter who was an original Apostle, none of the authors of the New Testament ever met Jesus of Nazareth.


  1. #1 codero
    September 13, 2010

    Why would they need to meet HIM? HE dictated to them from a flaming pie, which may account for their numerous contradictions. BTW, why does this remind me of Marxism of all things?

  2. #2 Martin R
    September 13, 2010

    HE dictated to them from a flaming pie

    No no, you’re getting your world religions mixed up. That sort of authority is only available in Islam and Mormonism. None of the Gospel writers offer data quality on that level.

  3. #3 Akhôrahil
    September 13, 2010

    Actually, it’s even worse – the attribution of Mark’s gospel to Mark is only traditional, and not really supported by fact.

    It’s fairly likely that none of the gospels were written by the author they’re named for.

  4. #4 Austrian
    September 13, 2010

    Seems who did´nt know and is surprised is you.
    In Austria this has been on the syllabus of (catholic) religious instruction for more than 30 years. (You have RI in public schools, unless you/your parents have opted out). Priests tell you in their sermons. It´s about the same in Germany, and if you´d care to ask your protestant/Lutheran Swedish friends: I bet its similar.
    So what?

  5. #5 Sandgroper
    September 13, 2010

    No shit.

    A scholarly and historically informed comaparison betweem the four gospels reaveals some really interesting stuff.

    Like that Jesus was probably a real historical person who got nailed by the Romans, like many thousands of others, but nowhere near what Christians have been indoctrinated to believe he was.

    He wasn’t even a carpenter – that was due to an inept mistranslation from Greek. He was more likely a stone-mason.

  6. #6 Sten
    September 13, 2010

    Some researchers think that Luke is a little older than Mark, and it’s highly probable that the end of Mark was written a lot later, but yes, this is generally accepted stuff. Priests do tell you this in sermons even in Sweden, and there are notes in most Bibles about the history of the texts. I agree with the Austrian commenter above — so what?

  7. #7 Lukas
    September 13, 2010

    But does this necessarily mean that Paul never listen to the oral tales told about Jesus? Does actually any church state that Paul met Jesus?

    But, is it corret to be dead certain about that NONE of authors of the New Testament ever met Jesus of Nazareth?

    The New Testament includes Epistle of James, and the author is by some considered either James the Just, a relation of Jesus or Apostle James, son of Alphaeus or apostle James the Great, brother of John the Evangelist. Must they be wrong, and why?

    The New Testament also includes the Gospel of John and the Epistels of John. There´s a dispute about the authorship, but is it correct to say for sure that Apostel John didn´t wrote any of them? The same can be said about the dead certain statment that the Epistels of Jude wasn´t written by someone who had met Jesus of Nazareth.

  8. #8 NJ
    September 13, 2010

    Sandgroper @ 5:

    He wasn’t even a carpenter – that was due to an inept mistranslation from Greek. He was more likely a stone-mason.

    ♪ Who controls the British Crown? Who keeps the metric system down?
    We do, we do! ♪

    Oh, wait…those were Stonecutters
    Never mind.

  9. #9 Martin R
    September 13, 2010

    I’m glad that most of my blog entries do not receive a bunch of comments saying “So what?”. It would be at the same time demoralising and strangely provocative.

    As for what is taught from the lectern in churches, I believe that most of my readers don’t attend church and so do not know that the original leaders of the Church died before the New Testament was written.

  10. #10 Sten
    September 13, 2010

    I wasn’t trying to demoralise you or anything, I was just honestly surprised. I sincerely thought that anyone, at least in Sweden, who are at all interested in religion knew when it was written and when it was put together. I mean, we learn this in high school…

    Sorry if it came off as provocative.

  11. #11 vrk
    September 13, 2010

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster yawned, and there was a small confusion with the timeline around 30-60 AD due to His putrid breath (which, as we know from the Gospel, would be the result of his bad drinking habit).

    As an aside, I distinctly remember learning about the history and chronology of the Bible in high school back in Finland. As other commenters have noted, it’s part of the curriculum in North Europe.

  12. #12 Martha
    September 13, 2010

    I am far, far away, where religion is not taught in the public schools.

    The introductory commentary in my copy of the New Testament Study Bible points out that the epistles were very possibly not written by the apostles. The apostles had first-hand knowledge, traveled a lot, taught and preached. When they were martyred or died, their followers wrote down what they remembered.

    Galilean fishermen were possibly not very literate. Written history from those times is rare, and the New Testament is about as well done as the other histories that have come down to us — Josephus, etc.

    To some of us, it makes Christianity all the more impressive.

    Thanks for the post on Tolkien!

  13. #13 LeRoy Haynes
    September 13, 2010

    Yes, these ideas are common knowledge. But there is much more to know and to consider. Have you thought about the writings discovered hidden in the desert of Nag Hamadi or perhaps it is near Nag Hamadi. I don’t remember exactly. Here are some of the most interesting writings from the first and second centuries. They reveal the early Christian community to be extremely diverse in its thinking and understanding of Jesus. All of this shows there are no simple answers to be counted or discounted.

  14. #14 LeRoy Haynes
    September 13, 2010

    Another thougjht. So St. Paul never read the Bible. What Bible? Certainly he read the Old Testament, although he would not have thought of it as the Old Testament, but he was very familiar with those ancient writings. He could not have read the New Testament because it did not exist. He would never have guessed that his directive and educational letters would someday be considered “Holy Scripture, divinely inspired.” Probably he would have been appaulled.

  15. #15 stripey_cat
    September 13, 2010

    Hmm. I knew this, but only because some of the linguistic aspects of dating and attribution came up at university. I was put up a year in early secondary school, so it may have been mentioned in the bits of the syllabus I missed, but it was clealy not a major concept in our lessons. Then again, RE in the UK is notoriously crap.

  16. #16 megan
    September 13, 2010

    The KEY thing is that there were SO MANY books relating to the teaching of a heretical Jewish preacher called Yeshua that the Roman Catholic church during the early years went through purging and streamlining to fight the Gnostics and other subgroups. Paul was the main vein adopted using the Mithra Zorastrian and Greek/Roman ‘Christos’ pagan iconic themes to frame Yeshua’s life into a Messiah for all humanity not just for the Jews. That’s why Jehovah Witnesses deny mainstream Christianity as being false and thinking they are truer to the earlier followers. IMHO, if you try to take anything more than his core dictum of ‘Love one another as you would love yourselves.” and “You are all brothers and sisters (spiritually) under the belief in a fatherly God.” & “Judge not, lest ye be judged” your are straying into justifying your own cultural/personal biases.

    A good book exposing Paul for what he was is a book called
    “The Myth-Maker – Paul and the Invention of Christianity”. I suspect the author is Jewish and mostly interested in countering the anti-Jewish tone of Paul’s teachings adopted by later Christianity. But it has salient points regardless.
    Funny it was my string Catholic upbringing to study biblical history and archeology that has turned me into an Agnola/atheist. Spiritual Fence sitter. =P The fractal nature of the universe’s patterns lead me to it. If we have no knowledge of the behavior and actions of each of our cells but there is a pattern guide to their actions set by our DNA and expressed through our behavior, could it be so for the universe as a whole per each planet and life entity?
    Like Hindu God Rama, dreaming and we are motes within a cycle of expanding/contracting universe beings?

  17. #17 codero
    September 13, 2010

    Martin, I think you inadvertently(?) made a good point. The people who know about this kind of thing and draw pertinent conclusions tend to be those who do not attend church, accessibility of information nonwithstanding. Though I honestly have no way of knowing, I find it hard to believe that many priests will actually emphasize the weaknesses of their holy scripture in sermons – the odd mention in passing seems more likely.

  18. #18 Badger3k
    September 13, 2010

    Don’t forget too that the individual known as Paul never wrote everything attributed to him, and that the dating of his writings has been made based on his traditional date of death, which has never actually been established by other than tradition. They could be dated later, and some scholars date them (and the rest) to the second century (although this is a more fringe view). The ending of Mark was not the original, and the story of Jesus and the adulteress (the “throw the first stone” bit was not in the oldest versions of John. Most people, although not those who study the Bible or Higher Criticism, are not familiar with how many changes the texts have gone through, but then most aren’t aware of the multiple authors of Daniel, or its late writing (2nd or 3rd century BCE, IIRC)….you get the idea. Most people just want to hear what they want to hear, and accept what they have been told, without actually looking into the origins of their stories.

  19. #19 JM
    September 13, 2010

    So what? Well for one, this poses an immediate problem for the more literal (to the words) interpretations of the new testament gospel, since we’re now talking about 2nd hand accounts at best, many years after the actual events happened. Of course, “literal interpretations” are the theological low hanging fruit, IMO.

  20. #20 kevin
    September 13, 2010

    Yeah I grew up in a fundamentalist family and was taught this in religious school and in church.

    I don’t see the big deal — nearly all events in ancient history, like the lives of the Roman emperors for example, are attested by historians writing much later based on hearsay, with their own agendas to promote, with multiple conflicting versions, yet no one doubts their essential value as a way to know what happened thousands of years ago. They’re simply the best accounts we have. Pointing out that they’re not perfect and up to modern standards of evidence is kinda specious.

  21. #21 Bob Carlson
    September 13, 2010

    I read a book titled Misquoting Jesus by an agnostic New Testament scholar named Bart Ehrman. I sent Ehrman an email asking how it is possible to misquote Jesus if he never existed. This seemed to ruffle his feathers a bit, and he said he is working on a book that would show that Christ had been a real person. If that were really possible, though, I have to think it would have been done by now.

    Another book I read, titled the Jesus Puzzle seems pretty much in harmony with the comments of Megan. The author, Earl Doherty, asserts that to Paul, Christ Jesus, was not an earthly being but a concept of a heavenly one and that it was the writings of Mark that transformed him into an earthly being via the process of “midrash.” a traditional Jewish practice of modifying previous biblical texts to fit more modern beliefs. The Ehrman book also discusses in great detail the kinds of deliberate and accidental changes that were made to biblical texts over time.

  22. #22 vnv
    September 13, 2010

    What LeRoy Haynes said. Presumably he read the part of the Bible Christians call “The Old Testament”. For that matter, presumably he read the parts of “The New Testament” which he himself wrote.

  23. #23 freelunch
    September 13, 2010


    There are certainly a number of historians who had agendas when they wrote about Rome or the French Revolution or recent American history, but there is also a huge amount of physical evidence related to the Roman emperors, the French Revolution or recent American history. No such evidence supports the claims of the New Testament.

  24. #24 Reginald Selkirk
    September 13, 2010

    Sandgroper: Like that Jesus was probably a real historical person who got nailed by the Romans, like many thousands of others, but nowhere near what Christians have been indoctrinated to believe he was.

    I think the case for the historical existence of Jesus H. Christ is exaggerated. There is no collaboration form any sources outside the New Testament, and we know that the synoptic gospels are not independent sources.

    Besides, “Jesus” was a very common name in that time and place. If a person named Jesus H. Christ actually existed, but was not God incarnate and did not work miracles or rise from the dead, so what? One might as well discuss whether there was ever actually a lumberjack named Paul Bunyan.

  25. #25 CherryBomb
    September 13, 2010

    Interesting to read the comments from Europeans about their religious education in school. Here in Texas, of course, such a thing is illegal. Perhaps the evangelists wishing to change this situation are misguided: teaching people what is actually in the Bible might turn us all into Godless Swedes!

  26. #26 kevin
    September 13, 2010

    Socrates is a good analog, known only through other peoples’ writings but still a hugely influential character with compelling ideas. You don’t find scholars seriously debating whether he existed. Requiring modern evidentiary proofs for Jesus’s existence is an intellectual double-standard that, if applied universally, would reduce our knowledge of history to a few crumbs.

    As a skeptic, I can say that the existences of Jesus and Socrates, along with details of their lives and teachings, are supported by a number of ancient, near-contemporaneous sources. That’s as far as the skeptic needs to go. Believing or doubting the mundane, non-magical claims of those sources leaves the province of intellectual honesty and ventures into polemicism.

  27. #27 megan
    September 14, 2010

    Seriously people? are some of you that dumb or need to be oh so anti Christian as to REALLY believe the name of the historical person whose life was mythologized was ACTUALLY named JESUS H. CHRIST? I find arrogant atheism in denial of reality as odious as the Pope. People create ideas and ideals around leaders and other EXISTING humans, easy. Hell Cary Grant is bout near a saint in some people’s eyes.

    The word Christ comes from the Christos Greek cults and the crucified savior myth from Mithraic cults and the whole dark/light devil Armageddon with God from Zoroastrianism that bled into Jewish sub Messiah cults. Just like Mohamed a radical anti-religious authoritarian Jewish preacher did exist fighting the Jewish mainstream theology, to have that much BS built around him. Just like Buddhavista. Glorified and idolized human beings. The Jew were looking for someone to help a rebellion against the Romans and Yeshua fit their bill and became a scapegoat.

    The wild conspiracy theory ‘Jesus’ never existed is falsified by known, documented and talked about travels of this person into Pakistan and Kashmir early traveling Jewish settlements by traders AFTER HAVING BEEN arrested by the Romans and crucified. It’s why Islam honors the guy and disregards Western Christianity for living in denial of his humanity and making him out to be a god. Every thief and persons deemed against the rulers got crucified back then for image sake and always allowed to be taken down or squirreled away by family and friends eventually. There was no resurrection. Everything is easily explained around the existence of a REAL PERSON than concoct denial excuses and counter factual evidence that sounds as bad as the original myths making up crap.All IMHO.

  28. #28 Martin R
    September 14, 2010

    I agree with Kevin. Jesus of Nazareth probably did exist. He may very well have believed that he was the Son of God, poor bastard. But the supernatural claims about him in the Bible are obvious fictions.

  29. #29 Akhôrahil
    September 14, 2010

    It would seem likely that the historical Jesus did not believe he was the son of God (at least not in any kind of literal sense – “Son of God” was a common enough epiteth in ancient Israel), but instead viewed himself as a prophet preaching the coming apocalypse.

  30. #30 natual cynic
    September 14, 2010

    Earlier in my life I would be considered a weak believer and understood a little about NT history. I don’t remember it a being a subject in Sunday School and it certainly was not taught in grade or high school [California]. I became more interested in history and the more I learned, the less I believed. Early on, I understood that the gospels weren’t exactly eyewitness accounts while it was much later that I gained a firmer understanding of the chronological and evidenciary questions.

    And Jesus may have been simply a common laborer for part of his life, being a part of the building of Sephoris for Herod Antipas. He then would have had at least some direct exposure to Hellenistic and Roman thought.

    I think that it’s likely that Paul never met Jesus since he never mentions it. Paul seems to have been the kind of guy who would have written about it.

    The Flying Spaghetti Monster yawned, and there was a small confusion with the timeline around 30-60 AD due to His putrid breath (which, as we know from the Gospel, would be the result of his bad drinking habit).

    Blasphemy. It was the garlic!!!

  31. #31 vrk
    September 14, 2010

    CherryBomb: It’s actually interesting how this is organised in Finland. Basically there’s two choices junior high and high school: Lutheran or agnostic (or atheistic if you wish). The latter is usually dubbed “studies in ethics”. Both cover roughly the same material, which is to educate the student about what religion is, what kinds of religions there are (various isms), how they have formed, how they influenced each other, what their relation to ethics and morality is, and so on.

    The point is not to teach particular dogma, but to serve as an introduction to theological studies from a philosophical perspective. (High school in Finland is preparatory education for university, after all.) Even the Lutheran classes are very secular, and they are different from ethics in the sense that students are assumed to be familiar with Lutheranism as background material.

    It’s more dogma oriented in primary schools. I never liked those classes.

  32. #32 Shane McKee
    September 14, 2010

    Luke before Mark? Pull the other one :-). I blogged a little about textual comparisons here: as well as elsewhere on my highly-undervalued blog (yiz are welcome to come over and trash the place). Luke definitely used Mark as a source, and all that guff about Mark being Peter’s secretary is based on very late tradition. It is very likely that Mark was not written by the John Mark of Acts.

    Here in Northern Ireland, religious education is a big part of school life (more’s the pity). As a kid I could recite the books of the bible faster than any other 10 year old in Dungannon, and won a prize for it. But we were certainly never told even that the 3 synoptics had a common source – they were supposed to have been eye witness accounts.

    Which led to the interesting assertion that they confirmed each other over the resurrection because they were all different, whereas if they had been the same, it would have looked suspicious. I think it was that argument that got me looking into it in more detail, until I discovered that there was no extra-biblical evidence that Jesus the Nazarene had even existed.

    Quite a discovery for an evangelical like me. I finally became an atheist in Jerusalem in 1993…

    As for the ending of Mark, I think James Tabor has suggested that the original ending may have been that bit at the end of “John” where they catch the fish by the shores of Lough Kinneret. I don’t know if I buy that, but it could be.

  33. #33 Cecilia/ Z
    September 15, 2010

    “none of the authors of the New Testament ever met Jesus of Nazareth.”

    Well, in the epilogue of Saint John’s gospel, chapter 21 maybe, it is stated that the author vouches that the gospel was written as one of the disciples of Jesus had racounted it.

  34. #34 Cecilia/ Z
    September 15, 2010

    And there are also two books in the New Testament called the letters of Saint Peter. At least in the first one it says something like “I was with Jesus on the mountain”.
    Don’t know if that proves anything, but i wouldn’t be sure that none of the NT authors never met Jesus.

  35. #35 Sandgroper
    September 16, 2010

    One removed – Paul met Peter.

    That just leaves the problem of working out which of Paul’s letters were written by Paul.

  36. #36 Kaleberg
    September 18, 2010

    The OT is a journal, a whole bunch of stuff written down in roughly chronological order, with no particular point save as the story of the tribe. There are a lot of tribal and national histories like this with varying histories and levels of continuity. Just about every major dynasty has one written.

    The NT is a series of letters written the spread a particular faith. It’s aim is to propagate the faith by telling a particular story. While Jesus was useful as a rhetorical device, I’d expect those who could make most effective use of him to be those who did not know him. It shows in the writing. Just compare the content of the stories of his life with the stories of the NT. There’s a big gap. They were written by men with a purpose.

  37. #37 Ed
    September 26, 2010

    Read my book: Man’s Search for Spirituality by E Christopher Reyes at

    It’s free.

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