Jesus and Paul Compared and Contrasted


reblogged from Dr Ehrman’s Blog

I have been talking about the relationship of Jesus’ proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God to Paul’s preaching about the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  In the previous post I argued that the fundamental concerns, interests, perspectives, and theologies  of these two were different.   In this post I’d like to give, in summary fashion, what strikes me as very similar and very different about their two messages.

Again, in my view it is way too much to say that Paul is the “Founder of Christianity”: that assumes that he is the one who personally came up with the idea of the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus for salvation, whereas almost certainly this view had been around for a couple of years before he came onto the scene.  And it is probably too much even to say that he was the “Co-founder of Christianity,” for much the same reason.

But it is safe to say that of all the early Christian thinkers and missionaries, Paul is the one we know best as the one who forcefully advocated this Christian message, in contradistinction to the message of Jesus.  In the writings of Paul more clearly than almost anywhere else in the NT we see that the message *of* Jesus has become the message *about* Jesus: that is, the message that was preached by Jesus during his life was transformed into a message about the importance of his death.

In any event, Jesus and Paul do share similarities as well as differences.  Here is a rough summary:

Similarities of Jesus and Paul:

  • Both Jesus and Paul were born and raised Jewish, and neither one of them saw himself as departing from the truth of Judaism and the Jewish God.  They both understood that they were proclaiming the “true” form of Judaism.  Neither of them thought they were staring a “new religion.”
  • Both Jesus and Paul proclaimed an apocalyptic message rooted in the categories of Jewish apocalypticism, which understood that the current age was ruled by the forces of evil, but a new age was coming in which God would destroy the forces of evil and bring in a utopian kingdom here on earth.
  • Both Jesus and Paul thought that this climactic moment of all human history was soon to come, it was right around the corner, it would be here within their own generation.
  • Both Jesus and Paul dismissed what they saw as the Pharisaic concern for the scrupulous observance of the Jewish Law as a way to obtain a right standing before God.
  • Both Jesus and Paul taught the ultimate need of faith and saw the love one’s neighbor as the summing up and fulfilling of the law, as the most important thing the followers of God could do.

So, there are a lot of similarities, at a very fundamental level.  But there are also very important and key differences.

Differences Between Jesus and Paul:

  • 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.

So, are Jesus and Paul more alike or more different?  People come to different conclusions, looking at the same evidence.    I’m afraid there is no right answer, even though many people are quite vociferous in their support of one position or the other.

Categories: Christianity, Jesus, New Testament scholarship

7 replies

  1. “Both Jesus and Paul thought that this climactic moment of all human history was soon to come, it was right around the corner, it would be here within their own generation.”


    “Islam knows the Jesus of History”

    • Again doorknob, scholars are divided as to whether Jesus preached the end of the world. Read Geza Vermes. Now go back to being a doorknob.

      • @qb

        As for Agnostic, Hes more like a dirty old doormat that needs to be thrown out

      • You are divided/inconsistent when it comes to Ehrman’s historical critical arguments.
        You are forced to believe a priori in a unhistorical quranic Christ of faith, who is based on unhistorical Jewish and apocryphal Christian sources.

      • Oh boy, the doorknob comes back with the same garbage.

        Just because we refer to Ehrman does not mean he is the final authority dummy. The point I made was that it is not a consensus among scholars that Jesus believed the end was near. Naturally, you had no idea about this and that is why you have no idea how to respond.

        What Jesus believed has to be reconstructed from what others wrote about him. So obviously, it’s not going to be an exact science.

    • @ QB

      I find it ironic that we’re supposed to be the “close minded” ones but they are the ones with the black and white worldview. Again just because you can agree with a person’s conclusion on one thing doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. I have no idea why this is so difficult for them to grasp. As someone who has read Ehrman’s argument he basis this on drum roll TWO things:

      1. There were Christians (like Paul) who were apocalyptic

      Again this means nothing as their beliefs were divided since day 1 and he concedes that they believed diffrently than what Jesus(as) taught.

      2. A verse (blanking which one atm) that says “the son of man” will return or something like that. He argues this verse must be true because why would Christians make up him being wrong?

      Pathetically weak argument. In a lot of their agreed upon fictitious stories they have apocalyptic themes and Jesus messing up or commiting sins.

      QB goes back to what I said too stupid and arrogant to understand the argument presented, just blind following. This is why scholars don’t have a consensus on him being apocalyptic.

      • @ QB

        Also he has no writings or eyewitness testimony to the man’s teachings so how can he triumphantly declare what is or isn’t historical or what his beliefs are? Just another case of not being able to prove his argument just everyone is supposed to run off his feelings.

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