Bart Ehrman: Most Scholars Doubt the Early Creed Was Written Within 3-6 Years of Jesus’ Death

Image result for image of the creed of first corinthians 15


Discussion on Bart Ehrman’s blog:

Christian:  I don’t think I’ve ever seen you explain how the tradition of appearance(s) by Jesus to “the twelve” (1 Cor 15:5) came to be circulated in a creed that most scholars date to within six years of Jesus’ death (Paul “received” it, 1 Cor 15:3) and that the twelve themselves presumably used. Same with the appearance to “all the apostles”. How do you explain the rise of these two appearance traditions? If collective hallucination, what do you think they all “saw” given your definition of ὤφθη (ōphthē) above.

Bart Ehrman:  I’ve talked about it a bit, mainly to say I have no idea how someone can possibly come up with the view that this was circulating six years after Jesus death. What are the grounds for that??? It’s really an apologetic claim more than anything else. All we know is that this was a creed that Paul preached to the Corinthians at some point. In any event, there is zero evidence that the Twelve used this creed. As to my view of the appearances, that’s the topic of a main part of my book How Jesus Became God.

Christian:  Your conclusion that 1 Cor 15:3-5 (or 3-7) is not a very early creed dated to within six years of Jesus’ death seems an outlier position based on what I’ve read. Is there any chance you could do a post dedicated to why an early dating of this is unfounded, or perhaps point to someone who has done so? I think the six years comes from three years max for Paul’s conversion then three years in Arabia, then Paul meets with Peter and James, the same two guys mentioned in the creed (Gal 1:15-19). Also, even if the creed was formulated later, why in your view wouldn’t the twelve be using it if it was a church creed?

Bart Ehrman:  Depends who you read; if it’s conservative evangelical apologists, yes, it will sound like that is the mainline view. But what is the evidence? Among scholars I personally know, except for evangelicals, I don’t now anyone who thinks this at all. And for a good reason: Paul never says he got this creed from Peter and James three years after his conversion. Doesn’t even suggest it. People just make this stuff up! Also, there *weren’t* “church creeds” back then. Every church had it’s own ways of thinking, believing, and saying things — nothing at all like a uniform liturgy until centuries later when Christianity became a unified world-wide movement. People like William Lane Craig may say this kind of thing. But you need to think carefully about the logic, especially in light of what we do know about the massive diversity of the earliest Christian churches. (BTW: if Peter and James came up with this creed, why would it be the “twelve” instead of the “eleven”? That’s not a MAJOR point, but it’s worth thinking about. Even if Paul didn’t know about Judas, they certainly would have)




End of post.

51 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman: Most Scholars Doubt the Early Creed Was Written Within 3-6 Years of Jesus’ Death

  1. Bart sums up my criticism of the creed being early — creeds come later when one group is subjecting another and pushing compliance. We don’t see other Christian creeds appearing until 3-400 years years later.

    Textually, the creed could easily have been inserted decades or centuries after Paul.

    An early dating, especial a ‘very early’ dating, seems to be nothing more than wishful thanking on the part of apologists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Use of words/phrases such as “subjecting”, “pushing compliance” and “wishful thanking” ascribe intent, which, unless explicit, neither you, nor I, nor your demi-God Ehrman (I intentionally applied intent since subtlety/brevity in these cases is not the soul of wit) can ascertain with any defensible probability. Especially against those that gave their lives for, at the very least a noble cause, if not The Truth. One should not lightly, and especially probabilistically, accuse such of intentionally manufacturing untruth. Swine to pearls.

      If anyone, you need to be the one ‘apologizing’ to the apologists.

      Why do ‘scholars’ almost always succumb to bias (pride?, arrogance?, human nature? original sin?)? Science, smience. Nothing new under the sun.

      Perhaps it’s why we all need The Saviour.


      1. Your “savior” exists only in your imagination, my friend. Jesus died a very long time ago. He was not a god. He was a man just like you and me. You have no good evidence that proves otherwise.


  2. Goulder, Funk, Ludemann, Dunn, Wedderburn, Metzer, Coogan – none of whom are believers (unless somethings changed that I don’t know about) – all give the creed early dating.

    And, there’s probably more non-believers that hold the same view.

    That doesn’t mean that a majority of non-Christian scholars take this view. I certainly don’t know if they do or don’t. But, this short list above are not a bunch of slouches.

    I am surprised that Ehrman questions how they came up with that dating scheme. It seems they used a “methodology” not too dissimilar from the way he came up with the idea that Jesus was left hanging on the cross.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What is the evidence that the Early Creed was written within six years of Jesus’ death other than the big assumption that the stories in the book of Acts are historically accurate?


  3. Oh, a couple more skeptics that agree this is early-dated:

    Roy W. Hoover (Jesus Seminar): “The conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead had already taken root by the time Paul was converted about 33 C.E. On the assumption that Jesus died about 30 C.E., the time for development was thus two or three years at most.”

    John Dominic Crossan (atheistic NT scholar): “Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus in the early 50s C.E. But he says in 1 Corinthians 15:3 that ‘I handed on to you as of first importance which I in turn received.’ The most likely source and time for his reception of that tradition would have been Jerusalem in the early 30s when, according to Galatians 1:18, he ‘went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and stayed with him fifteen days.’”

    Still, I’m not making a case that the majority of skeptic scholars agree to an early date. But some that are noteworthy do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul states he received nothing from human beings, in particular nothing from the Twelve whom he seemed to despise. I will bet that Paul “received” the creed in First Corinthians 15 by divine revelation from the resurrected Christ…which in non-Christian terms means: Paul’s mentally ill mind invented this creed.


      1. Paul never states that. Not in the Greek.

        I think I’ll stick with the thoughts of those guys I listed, rather than buying into your theory. Nothing personal, mind you.

        You’re welcome to offer any theory you like, and somebody will agree to it, I’m sure. Once you get published in a peer-reviewed publication, then I’d give some thought to it.


        1. Exactly. There is no evidence other than scholarly assumptions. The same is true for the Empty Tomb. There is zero good evidence for the historicity of this alleged tomb other than scholarly assumptions.

          I will no longer accept scholarly opinion as evidence. Either there is good evidence or there isn’t.

          I reject the early dating of the creed of First Corinthians.
          I reject the historicity of the Empty Tomb.
          I reject both claims because there is zero good evidence for them.


          1. Exactly? No evidence? Gary, I wasn’t responding (at all) to your request for evidence from someone about the dating of the creed.

            But, as far as the rest of your message goes, I’d offer this:

            Did you know they’ve never really “seen” a Higgs Bosun?

            Nope. It’s existence is inferred.

            Lots of science done by physicists, archaeologists, astronomers – really, lots of different types of scientists – use inferences all the time. And most certainly, historians do.

            I think I’ll stick with their approach, rather than yours. If everybody stuck with your approach, we’d be saying Julius Caesar never crossed the Rubicon – but – he was on one side of it, and then later on, on the other side.

            It doesn’t seem to be a very useful approach, IMHO. But, you are, of course, welcome to it.


            1. Good for you, ft! You criticized my position without personally insulting me. Well done.

              I agree that inferences can lead to factual conclusions. In Caesar’s case, one cannot reach Rome from northern Italy without crossing the Rubicon, so an inference is certainly justified. What such inferences are there for the early dating of Paul’s creed?


          2. I believe you should refine that to read: ”Either there is evidence or there isn’t.” Using ambiguous qualifiers such as good or bad allows way too much wiggle-room.
            For example, for the tomb there is no evidence.


            1. The Bishop of Jerusalem, Marcarius, said in the fourth century that he knew the location of the tomb of Jesus. I think he was bullshitting to get a Christian cathedral for his city, but that is evidence. Very poor evidence, but it is evidence. (Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, was initially skeptical of Marcarius’ claim. That tells me that Eusebius had never heard of a “tomb of Jesus” until Marcarius mentioned (invented) it.)

              What I can say is that prior to the fourth century, there is ZERO indication that anyone was aware of the location of the tomb of Jesus. One Church Father, Origen, did a tour of the holy sites in Palestine in the second century. He mentions visiting the location of Jesus’ birth and the location of Jesus baptism, but says nothing about Jesus’ alleged tomb.


              1. I would say that this is a claim regarding the tomb, not evidence of the location of the tomb.

                I always understood much of this nonsense was due to Helena’s patronage and coincidentally this is when these things suddenly started to pop up on the theological radar?


                1. Eusebius seemed to have been skeptical of the discovery of the tomb of Jesus right up until the moment that Empress Helena showed up for a dedication of Macarius’ alleged site. What changed his mind??

                  Hint: $$$

                  Liked by 1 person

                    1. What is funny is that Christian apologists, including Catholic apologists, claim that what changed Eusebius’ mind is that there MAY have been graffiti on the grave, identifying it as the tomb of Jesus.

                      Talk about grasping at straws!!!

                      There is zero mention in the historical record of anyone identifying the grave of Jesus due to graffiti.


                    2. The fact that Catholics and Protestants cannot agree on the location of the tomb of Jesus is good evidence that the evidence for his tomb’s location (and existence) is poor.


                  1. Like clock work over the centuries, and increasingly so in the age of cheap-proliferation internet, why do Da Vinci Code ‘scholars’ show up ad-infinitum ad-absurdum, ad-nauseum …

                    Hint; $$$$


        2. Dead Atheist/Ft: In the Greek, when Paul says he “received” the creed, why couldn’t he have been referring to “receiving” it from the resurrected Jesus? What is it about the Greek that would not allow this interpretation?


          1. There’s nothing in that language itself that would preclude someone from asserting that Paul “received” the statement from Jesus, nor from a Martian, nor from the Chinese emperor.

            If you wish to believe that Paul got the statement from Odin, you are certainly free to do so (as far as the “linguistics” go).


    2. With, no-malintent, but instead profuse, almost debilitating sadness, I remind you (though I perceive you know) that the majority of scholars (of his time) crucified Christ. Knowing well this paradox is probably why Jesus spent his time with the ‘common’ people.

      When the scholars did hound him, He invariably laid them low with ‘simple’ truths to which they seemed to be deaf, blind and dumb.


      1. That is only what four anonymous works of religious propaganda say. There are zero non-biased accounts that record anything Jesus said.


  4. OH, and here’s what Carrier says about it: “In fact the evidence for this creed dating to the very origin of the religion is amply strong; and there is no reasonable basis for claiming otherwise.”


    1. Carrier is not a New Testament scholar.

      Since you are so well versed on this issue, ft, please provide good evidence for the early dating of the creed found in First Corinthians 15.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, Erhrman seems to talking through both sides of his mouth here.
    He has acknowledged that Paul did meet Peter and James soon after his conversion, as recorded in Galatians 1. When did Paul receive this teaching that he was passing on?
    In all likelihood soon after his conversion. And the teaching he received was affirmed by Peter and James, and John, when he didn’t need to change anything that he was passing on.

    So this DOES mean that what Paul was preaching in his letters, including 1 Corinthians, is what the apostles who knew Jesus in His earthly lifetime were teaching.

    Why does the creed (which is admittedly an anachronistic term, but doesn’t invalidate how early this saying was circulating) say the TWELVE?
    Because Matthias, who was enrolled with the Twelve, saw the Risen Jesus and was present there as well. That was part of the qualification for him to become one of the Twelve. See Acts 1.

    Paul is passing on the teaching that he received from Jesus in his conversion, which is exactly the teaching that Pater, James and John were preaching, which is that Jesus had risen bodily. Jesus was known as Lord – ie God – from the earliest stages of the Christian proclamation, which also predates Paul’s conversion – See Romans 10:9.

    Whichever way you want to skin this, the earliest Christology was the highest Christology. What Erhman’s whole approach can’t account for is this incredibly high view of Jesus, so soon after His death.

    See also Jesus and the God of Israel by Richard Bauckham.

    And by the way, “only evangelicals hold that view” is NOT an argument against a view. you have to show how the evangelicals are wrong in drawing that conclusion. Which Erhman never has.


    1. What I also have often pondered, is that viewing this from a purely naturalistic standpoint, what can account for this early high Christology? I’m thinking particularly of the early creed embedded in Phillippians 2:6-11. It would have been unthinkable for these devout Jewish men who were fiercely monotheistic to take this view lightly, blasphemous really.

      But, if someone is wholly committed to the view that all religious faith simply reflects ignorant and uninformed superstition, one could always postulate something and find an alternate explanation.

      As I’ve shared, the debate and discussion has ensued for centuries. I’m feeling doubtful that we are going to come to a resolution here together.


      1. I will bet that Paul invented all of his teachings and all of his “creeds”. He says that he received nothing from men but everything by divine revelation.

        Paul was raving mad.


        1. Well, I think he inserted this hymn/creed into the text of Phillippians because it was widely used and accepted in the early church. It just reflected the belief and practice of the early followers of Christ. I feel as if he was neither mad nor heard a voice from Heaven in this regard. 🙂 To me, this seems the simplest explanation and has been agreed upon by most scholars of all persuasions.


          1. Well, I think he inserted this hymn/creed into the text of Phillippians because it was widely used and accepted in the early church.

            What is the evidence for your assertion?


            1. Gary, I’m by no means an NT scholar, but here is my understanding. I try to also consider and look at what far more qualified folks are saying and then use that to help shape my views.

              Scholars are feeling this way because the language used is not characteristically Pauline.

              The scholars assert that this creed, as well as some others, translates easily back into the Aramaic. The creed is said to show features of Hebrew poetry and thought-forms. It is thought to have come into existence while the church was heavily Jewish and then incorporated into Paul’s letters.

              I believe that Ehrman had a discussion relating to this early creed in Phillipians on his blog awhile back. I’m not a member so I can’t access this, but you could check it out.

              Also, my background is more in the social sciences. I just don’t feel that we should automatically assume that people are delusional or mentally ill because they have beliefs or experiences that we do not, or can’t fully explain in naturalistic kinds of ways.


                1. Well, perhaps it depends on how we define and interpret what constitutes evidence. If you’re asking me, could I be wrong…Well, of course.

                  .But, right now what I’ve shared based on what I’ve studied makes the most sense to me. Can’t do better than that. 🙂


        2. “He says that he received nothing from men but everything by divine revelation.”

          I can’t find that anywhere. Could you point where Paul claims he got “everything” by “divine revelation”? I mean, he sure does use a lot of OT scripture (for example), and he would have known that beforehand. Did he know who Peter was by “divine revelation”? Did he know the time of day by divine revelation?

          Or, are you just way overshooting the mark with an exaggerated statement that Paul “received nothing from men but everything by divine revelation”?

          Because the closest thing I can find to that is Paul’s claim that he received his “good message” by divine revelation. At least, that’s what it says in the Greek…


          1. You are correct. Paul never states that everything he knew, including the time of day, came by divine revelation.

            But it is possible that when Paul states he “received” the Early Creed he was speaking about receiving it from Jesus the Christ, right?


            1. First – I got this response AFTER I made my last comment, noting that you “hadn’t responded”… I see that you HAD responded, and I just wanted to acknowledge that.

              When Paul talks about “receiving” the creed, he could be saying he got it from his horse. Or the neighbor next door. Or from other believers. Or from Thor, Ra, or even Jesus.

              Making the determination that he means he “got it from Jesus” (or his horse, or Ra, or a next-door neighbor) is – well – something that has to be based on a lot of other things, I suppose.


              1. So you agree: There is no way to know from whom or what Paul received the Early Creed.

                Many conservative Christians assume that Paul received this “creed” from Peter and James during his alleged two week stay in Jerusalem. However, there is no evidence whatsoever for this assumption just as there is no evidence that Paul received this creed from the resurrected Jesus.


                1. It a little bit of an overstatement to say that there is “no way to know…(etc)”.

                  What I agree with is that that – from the language used – ie, the Greek diction used – there is no way of telling from whom or what Paul received the creed. To be as specific as possible, there are no Greek words used that, by definition or convention, indicate that the phrase must have come from another person, or must have come from a god, or anything of the sort. Like, the word “received” does not imply “received from only a person” or “received specifically from the cosmos” or anything like that. That phrase about “I’m handing you what I received” is pretty much as “generic” in Greek as it is in English. Paul potentially could have received the statement from a talking fire hydrant. The statement itself carries no indication at all of where or from whom or what Paul received it.

                  But – just to clarify: If Paul said in some other letter “oh, that creed I sent you guys – I got that from Peter” – well, then, we could have a way of knowing where it came from. (But, I don’t think we have anything like that in any of Paul’s other letters)

                  I can tell you this, though: It’s a “creed” only because someone in a much later century called it that. For Paul, this was basically a mnemonic device – in this case, a statement put in a sort of poetic form, making it easier to remember. Those kinds of statements were as common “back then” as they are now.

                  Just watching the news, you might see a group of people protesting something. Their “signs” will sometimes have “sayings” on them that are fitting to that very moment in time. At the OJ Simpson trial, such a mnemonic used was “if the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”.

                  After MANY notable events in life, you’ll see (these days) “memes” pop up on facebook that carry some statement or other, that is relevant to the event. Like, “It’s a woman’s body, it’s a woman’s choice” on a meme (as well as posters, signs, etc).

                  “A stitch in time saves nine” is such a mnemonic. Starting and ending stories with “Once upon a time” and “they lived happily ever after” are mnemonic devices. Heck, the whole of the Pledge of Allegiance is a mnemonic.

                  These kinds of “devices” pop up very rapidly after notable events. “Remember Pearl Harbor” popped up within weeks after the event, if not sooner.

                  None of this means that, therefore, the mnemonic Paul uses (which we now call a “creed”) came up quickly after the crucifixion of Jesus, but, it is very very VERY easy to support the idea that it could have. Again – this does not mean that it did. Just that it’s exceedingly easy – especially to one who has studied folklore and anthropology – to see how it could have come into use very early on.

                  As an aside, I tend to object to calling it a “creed”, although I use that term myself in reference to this passage – but, only because everybody else does.

                  For Paul, or the church at Corinth, or any other church or believer that had heard it, I doubt they understood it as a “formal creedal statement authorized by James (or Peter, or whomever)”. I very much suspect that to them, it was like reciting a poem or a song lyric that encapsulated the story, and was simply a good way of remembering the story. I’m not at all sure why modern scholars refer to this as a “creed”, which sort of implies it was an “official statement” like, maybe, the much-later “Apostles Creed”.

                  Sorry for being long-winded here.


    2. “When did Paul receive this teaching that he was passing on? In all likelihood soon after his conversion. And the teaching he received was affirmed by Peter and James, and John, when he didn’t need to change anything that he was passing on.”


      Paul says he received his teachings from “no man”. Therefore it is very possible that Paul received the “Early Creed” by divine revelation: his mentally disturbed mind invented it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘Bart Ehrman: Most Scholars Doubt the Early Creed Was Written Within 3-6 Years of Jesus’ Death’

    yet another misleading headline. Ehrman simply says out of the scholars he PERSONALLY knows, none of them accept this dating EXCEPT those he knows personally who are evangelical.

    Im sure Ehrman personally knows quite a few scholars, but it is surely a very small subset of all the Bible scholars in the world, and as he himself says his view is not held by all the evangelical ones. So youre likely talking about a tiny number. But you have twisted it to mean ‘most scholars’!


    1. I think it is very clear (to anyone who does not have an agenda) that Ehrman believes that only evangelical scholars believe that there is any good evidence for the dating of the Early Creed to within 6 years of Jesus’ death.


      1. “I think it is very clear (to anyone who does not have an agenda) …”

        Physician heal thyself !!


  7. Justin Bass just replied to me now

    “You can read for yourself what Bart says on this subject (see Did Jesus Exist? Pages 130-131). Bart directly referenced 1 Cor 15 right before this along with other traditions he is talking about that Paul “received”.

    Here is the quote “I should stress in addition that Paul indicates on several occasions that the traditions about Jesus are ones that he himself inherited from those who came before him. This is clearly implied when he says that he “handed over” what he had earlier “received,” technical language in antiquity for passing on traditions and teachings among Jewish rabbis. Even where Paul does not state that he is handing on received tradition, there are places where it is clear he is doing so. I have men-tioned, for example, Romans 1:3-4, an ancient adoptionistic creed about Jesus that indicates he “became” the son of God only when he was raised from the dead. This creed was not written by Paul: it uses words and phrases not otherwise found in Paul (for example, spirit of holiness) and contains concepts otherwise alien to Paul (that Jesus was made the Son of God at the resurrection). He is using, then, an earlier creed that was in circulation before his writing. Where did Paul get all this received tradition, from whom, and most important, when? Paul himself gives us some hints. He indi-cates in Galatians…” “Paul must have been converted sometime after the death of Jesus around 3o CE and sometime before 40 CE. …Paul went to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and James three years after his conversion, he would have seen them, and received the traditions that he at in his letters, around \ the middle of the decade, say the year 35 or •36 The traditions he erite course, were o • er than that and so must date to c0u of ears or so after Jesus’s death. ”

    Justin continues “Bart is essentially playing semantics or at worst lying in that interview to ensure he never agrees with Christian apologetic arguments. Notice also he doesn’t mention even one scholar who dates this creedal tradition later than AD 40. In published works, as I note in my book, I could only find 3 and one is a mythicist! As usual, Bart needs to reread his own writings.”


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