On the matter of the historicity of Jesus, Bart Ehrman has replied to what I recently summarized about the problems with Paul’s reference to brothers of the Lord in the Epistles. In Carrier and James the Brother of the Jesus (already distorting his facts in the title; Paul never uses the phrase brother “of Jesus”), Ehrman outlines a logically valid argument:
The historical man Jesus from Nazareth had a brother named James. Paul actually knew him. That is pretty darn good evidence that Jesus existed. If he did not exist he would not have had a brother.
I agree. Hence I’ve long noted this is the best evidence there is for historicity. I even count it as 2 to 1 in favor of historicity in OHJ. The problem, however, is not the validity of the argument, but its soundness. A sound argument has to be not only valid, but its premises also have to be well-established as true—and not in doubt. Otherwise any doubt we have in the premises transfers to the conclusion, and we then have to doubt the conclusion as much or even more. And ample doubts exist as to the central premise: that Paul ever says he knew an actual biological brother of Jesus (much less a Jesus “of Nazareth,” since Paul never mentions anything like Nazareth or “Nazarene” being connected to Jesus).
Ehrman complains about the length of continuing debates. Reading the peer reviewed literature of his own field is too hard for him, you see; a waste of time, really. So I’ll summarize my response to him (which is explained in more detail below) in two sentences, so he can save himself the time it takes to learn facts and just catch up on what’s wrong with what he is saying:
Multiple experts in the peer reviewed literature have already established that he is probably wrong about the grammar of Galatians 1:19; and he is rebutting an explanation essentially the opposite of the one I actually presented in the peer reviewed literature. Since he is on both accounts not addressing the peer reviewed literature of his own field, he has not said anything even capable of rebutting it.
That was said in under 70 words. Ehrman can hardly object that 70 words is too much for him to read. If he wants to actually respond to the actual peer reviewed literature of his own field, he will have to read more than 70 words. But if “the peer reviewed literature refuting me is too wordy therefore I can’t be bothered to read it” is his reply, he is literally declaring himself no longer interested in doing actual professional history and has joined the ranks of every armchair hack he despises.
My Basic Point
Paul also never says Jesus had biological brothers. Brothers by birth or blood appear nowhere in Paul’s letters. He only knows of cultic brothers of the Lord: all baptized Christians, he says, are the adopted sons of God just like Jesus, and therefore Jesus is “the firstborn of many brethren” (OHJ, p. 108). In other words, all baptized Christians are for Paul brothers of the Lord, and in fact the only reason Christians are brothers of each other, is that they are all brothers of Jesus. Paul is never aware he needs to distinguish anyone as a brother of Jesus in any different kind of way. And indeed the only two times he uses the full phrase “brother of the Lord” (instead of its periphrasis “brother”), he needs to draw a distinction between apostolic and non-apostolic Christians (more on that below; but see OHJ, pp. 582-92).
Then I summarized some of the details elaborating on this under Argument 14. The relevant citations and evidence are in my peer reviewed book, at the pages designated.
Ehrman concedes that “brother” can be meant non-literally, a “spiritual brother” as Ehrman describes it, meaning “someone who is connected by common bonds of affection or perspective to another.” That actually isn’t what any peer reviewed mythicist argument claims. Christians were not brothers because they were “connected by common bonds of affection or perspective.” They were brothers because they were at baptism the adopted sons of God. Literally. Paul explicitly says that. And this made them all brothers of the Lord Jesus. Again, Paul explicitly says that. And I reiterated this point in my assessment of Ehrman’s Argument 14. It was disingenuous of Ehrman to only respond to the non-peer reviewed arguments for mythicism and ignore the peer reviewed arguments. Ask yourself, why would he do that?
Ehrman also says this can’t be the meaning in Galatians 1:18-19 because there the James thus called a brother of the Lord is being differentiated from Cephas (Peter) the Apostle. As I wrote in my summary, that’s indeed true: Paul is making a distinction; he uses the full term for a Christian (“Brothers of the Lord”) every time he needs to distinguish apostolic from non-apostolic Christians. The James in Galatians 1 is not an Apostle. He is just a rank-and-file Christian. Merely a Brother of the Lord, not an Apostolic Brother of the Lord. The only Apostle he met at that time, he says, was Cephas (Peter), the first Apostle (according to 1 Corinthians 15:5 in light of 1 Corinthians 9:1). Likewise the “Brothers of the Lord” Paul references in 1 Corinthians 9:5 are, again, non-apostolic Christians—and thus being distinguished from Apostles, including, again, the first Apostle, Cephas.
Given what we have from Paul, this is just as likely, if not more likely, than the alternative reading, because we have evidence direct from Paul that he knows of cultic Brothers of the Lord (as in Romans 8:29 he says all Christians are brothers of the Lord), but no evidence he knows of biological brothers of the Lord, a significantly different category of person. So when Paul says “Brothers of the Lord,” he never says which kind he means; and had he known that there were two different kinds of such brothers, the cultic and the biological, he would need to clarify which he meant. That he never clarifies which he meant, means he only knew of one kind. And the only kind of such brother we can clearly establish he knew, was the cultic. And if even that doesn’t move you, he still doesn’t tell you which he meant; so you can’t otherwise claim to know.
The Peer Reviewed Literature on the Grammar
Ehrman now asks how this can work when “no one can think that Cephas / Peter was not also Jesus’ “brother” in this spiritual sense” too. But it works the same way as now, when, for example, we distinguish pastors and priests from just “Christians.” If we say “the only Pastor I met was John, but I also met the Christian, Jacob” we are not saying Pastor John is not also a Christian; we are saying Jacob is not a Pastor—but still a Christian. This is why Paul’s grammar is so convoluted in Galatians 1:17-19. Rather than simply say “I met two Apostles, Cephas and James the Brother of the Lord,” a way of saying it that would definitely mean Cephas was not whatever a “Brother of the Lord” was, Paul chose instead to say:
I did not go to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me [then]…[but] after three years I went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days. But I saw no other Apostles—just the Brother of the Lord James.
Bible translations are written with Christian dogmatic assumptions, so how this gets translated varies widely, in some cases more clearly trying to make this James an Apostle, other times more honestly making that ambiguous, as Paul’s actual vocabulary entails. You can see a broad comparison at Bible Hub, ranging from the more honest “I saw none of the other apostles–only James, the Lord’s brother” (NIV) to the more distorted “The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother” (NLT). The latter is definitely not what the Greek says. It’s an interpretation of what the translator thinks the Greek text means; but it’s not what the text says. The former is closer to what the text actually says.
As I wrote in OHJ (pp. 588-90):
Whether Paul is actually lying about any of this is not relevant to what Paul wants the Galatians to think and thus what Paul means to say here. And what he means to say is that no one in Judea ever met him. He swears to this most emphatically (Gal. 1.20). He admits there were only two exceptions, Peter and James, and only for a brief time (and that years after he saw the Lord personally). But in saying so, why didn’t Paul just say ‘of them that were apostles before me [1.17] I met none except Peter and James [1.18-19]’? Why does he construct the convoluted sentence ‘I consulted with Peter, but another of the apostles I did not see, except James’? As L. Paul Trudinger puts it, ‘this would certainly be an odd way for Paul to say that he saw only two apostles, Peter and James’.[n. 98] To say that, a far simpler sentence would do. So why the complex sentence instead? Paul could perhaps mean that he consulted with Peter (historeô) but only saw James (eidô)—that is, he didn’t discuss anything with James. But if that were his point, he would make sure to emphasize it, since that would be essential to his argument. Yet he doesn’t. In fact, if he is saying that he saw none of the other apostles, that would entail he was claiming he did not consult with any, either.
So it’s just as likely, if not more so, that Paul means he met only the apostle Peter and only one other Judean Christian, a certain ‘brother James’. By calling him a brother of the Lord instead of an apostle, Paul is thus distinguishing this James from any apostles of the same name—just as we saw he used ‘brothers of the Lord’ to distinguish regular Christians from apostles in 1 Cor. 9.5. Indeed, this would explain his rare use of the complete phrase in only those two places: he otherwise uses the truncated ‘brother’ of his fellow Christians; yet every time he specifically distinguishes apostles from non-apostolic Christians he uses the full title for a member of the Christian congregation, ‘brother of the Lord’. This would be especially necessary to distinguish in such contexts ‘brothers of the apostles’ (which would include kin who were not believers) from ‘brothers of the Lord’, which also explains why he doesn’t truncate the phrase in precisely those two places.
I here cite Trudinger’s peer reviewed article demonstrating that the grammatical construction Paul uses in Gal. 1:19 is comparative. In other words, “Other than the apostles I saw no one, except James the Lord’s brother.” Thus, the construction Paul is using says James is not an Apostle. And both Trudinger and Hans Dieter Betz (who wrote the Fortress Press commentary on Galatians) cite a number of peer reviewed experts who concur (OHJ, p. 590, n. 100). There were of course Jameses who were Apostles. So Paul chose this construction to make clear he didn’t mean one of them (or a biological brother of Cephas, for that matter). He meant a regular “Brother of the Lord,” an ordinary non-apostolic Christian. But a Christian all the same—which was important for Paul to mention, since he had to list every Christian he met on that visit, lest he be accused of concealing his contacts with anyone who knew the gospel at that time.
Ironically, in his attempt to answer Trudinger, George Howard, the only person to answer Trudinger in the peer reviewed literature (OHJ, p. 590, n. 101), observed that the examples Trudinger referenced still involve “a comparison between persons or objects of the same class of things,” such as new friends and old friends belonging to the general class of friends, and indestructible elements and destructible elements belonging to the general class of elements. But that actually means Cephas and James belong to the same class (Brothers of the Lord, since Jesus is “the firstborn of many brethren…”), which entails the distinction is between Apostolic and non-Apostolic Brothers of the Lord, just as Trudinger’s examples show a contrast being made between destructible and indestructible elements and old and new friends. Howard’s objection thus actually confirms the very reading I’m pointing to. It thus does not in fact argue against Trudinger at all—who would agree both Cephas and this James belonged to the same class of things: Christians. Howard’s only other objection was to suggest Paul could have said James was not an Apostle by an even more convoluted sentence; when Occam’s Razor entails the reverse, that Paul would have said such a thing, had he intended to say such a thing, in a much simpler way, not a more complex one—after all, it would be far easier to just say “I met two apostles.” Exactly as Trudinger observes. (I discuss in OHJ several other simpler ways of saying the same thing than Howard suggests.)
What does Ehrman have to say in response?
Nothing in response to the peer reviewed literature. (He addresses neither my discussion of this in my peer reviewed book, nor in that of Betz, nor in the peer reviewed articles of Trudinger or Howard, all of whom I cite in my book.)
Starting to see a trend here?
The Consequences of Ignoring the Peer Reviewed Literature
Because Ehrman stalwartly refuses to read and respond to the peer reviewed literature, he instead tries to argue that I said Cephas was therefore not a Brother of the Lord. Since that is not what I have ever argued, but essentially the opposite, he simply isn’t replying to what I have said. Ehrman would know this if he would just read my book, the actual peer reviewed literature, instead of pretending to know what it says by “interpreting” my summaries of it on my blog. Paul is not saying in Gal. 1 or 1 Cor. 9 that Apostles were not Brothers of the Lord any more than Pseudo-Aristotle using the same construction meant that indestructible elements were not elements or that new friends were not friends. This is the very point of Greek grammar Trudinger explains, and that even Howard concurs on. Again, saying you met “no one but Pastor John, except the Christian Jacob” is not saying Pastor John is not a Christian. It’s saying Jacob is not a Pastor—but nevertheless still a Christian.
Because Ehrman stalwartly refuses to read and respond to the peer reviewed literature, he instead tries to argue that Paul never said all baptized Christians were brothers of the Lord, even though in fact Paul says all baptized Christians were brethren because they were the brethren of the Lord, and they were so because by baptism they were adopted as the sons of God, and that is the reason they would inherit God’s kingdom: being his sons, and therefore rightful heirs. Jesus differs from them in being the adopted son of God solely in respect to being the first one so adopted (and of course being assigned the special privileges of the firstborn: command over God’s estate). Romans 8 is all about this. I cite many other passages concurring and supporting—in the peer reviewed literature Ehrman continues to ignore, and thus remains ignorant of, and thus never responds to: OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 12 (p. 108, with n. 101).
Because Ehrman stalwartly refuses to read and respond to the peer reviewed literature, he instead tries to argue a point of Greek grammar challenged in the peer reviewed literature. Indeed, challenged not only by Trudinger, but even Howard, and by several others cited by Trudinger and Betz. Ehrman refuses to read the peer reviewed literature, and thus makes responses that only expose the fact that he is ignorant of the peer reviewed literature of his own field; that he does not know the underlying Greek grammar of the Galatians passage and has not compared it with the same construction elsewhere in ancient Greek; that he does not know what experts have said in the peer reviewed literature about the underlying Greek grammar of the Galatians passage when compared with the same construction elsewhere in ancient Greek. And accordingly, he fails to respond to the peer reviewed arguments against him. He instead ignores the peer reviewed literature of his own field and arm-chairs a response to a blog post that told him to read the peer reviewed literature of his own field.
Why is anyone still listening to this guy?