The Mystery of Paul's Ignorance

Louis W. Cable

Paul's writing is no better than the jargon of a conjurer who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told.

Thomas Paine

Let us consider the question of Paul's ignorance, perhaps the most perplexing problem confronting the defenders of the historical Jesus. The Apostle Paul, often referred to as the founder of Christianity, seems to have been totally unaware of any details of Jesus' life and teachings as they are presented in the gospels. Nowhere does Paul equate his hero, Jesus Christ, with a man from Nazareth recently put to death in Judea. Why?
Paul's dates are not definitely known, but he is believed to have lived from somewhere around 53 to around 674. Although these dates may not be exact, the traditional dates of Jesus’ ministry (27-30) fall well within them. When Jesus was supposed to have been active in his ministry, Paul was a grown man in his early to mid twenties living and working in Jerusalem. He claims to have studied under the famous rabbinical teacher, Gamaliel, and to have been closely associated with the political and religious leaders of that day (Acts 22:3-5).

During the alleged time of Jesus, Jerusalem was a city of approximately 120,000 people5, not significantly large. Therefore, Paul must have heard of the miracles allegedly performed by Jesus. How could he have missed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which, according to Matthew 21:9-11, attracted great multitudes6. How could he not have heard about Jesus’ cleansing of the temple which incurred the wrath of the chief priests and the scribes (Matthew 21:15)? As an enforcer of the law, how could Paul not have known of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot resulting in his arrest by soldiers and police from the chief priests and the Pharisees (John 18:3). He does not refer to Judas' death which, according to Acts 1:19, was known to all of the residents of Jerusalem. Paul must have been aware of Jesus' trial before Pontius Pilate and the ensuing crucifixion with its attendant anomalies such as darkness at noon and earthquakes. Why didn't he mention the resurrection of the saints (Matthew 27:52-53), certainly the most astounding event in history. He never mentions the amputation by Peter of the right ear of Malchus, the chief priest's slave (John 18:10) and its miraculous reattachment by Jesus (Luke 22:51)? Surely Paul encountered Jesus sometime during those years so crucial to what was to become the Christian religion. Yet, not a single reference to these important events appears anywhere in his writings. What makes it stranger still is that in Luke 24:18-20 Cleopas says that everybody in Jerusalem knew about Jesus whom he described as "a prophet mighty in deed and word."

According to Paul, the only encounter he ever had with Jesus was that famous incident which allegedly occurred on the road to Damascus. The Book of Acts records three separate versions of this encounter none of which agrees with the other two. For example, in Acts 9:7, Paul says that the men with him "heard the voice." But in Acts 22:9 he says they "did not hear the voice." The other contradiction lies in the manner in which Paul claims to have received his instructions. According to the first two accounts, Jesus didn't say very much. He told Paul to go into the city where he would be told what he must do (9:6 and 22:10). However, in his defense before King Agrippa (26:12-18) Paul tells a different story. Here he says that Jesus instructed him in great detail right there on the spot.

The accounts of Paul's experience on the road to Damascus are second-hand testimony recorded by an unknown author long after the events are alleged to have taken place. There are no affidavits or other legal documents confirming the experience. Besides, if the accounts are accurate, the witnesses could not have agreed to anything except that they saw a bright light.

Paul tells in II Cor. 11:32-33 how he made a daring escape from the agents of King Aretas who were out to arrest him. Aretas is known to have died in the year 407 thus putting Paul’s conversion and the beginning of his career as an evangelist in the very late 30s, less than ten years after the alleged crucifixion. Therefore, he should have been personally acquainted with many who had had direct contact with Jesus during his lifetime. For example, he went to Jerusalem where he spent fifteen days with Peter (Galatians 1:18), whom Jesus had personally selected to be his earthly successor (Mt. 16:17-19). What did they talk about if not Jesus?

Those Pauline epistles considered to be genuine (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and perhaps Philippians and Philemon) were written between 50 and 60. They predate the gospels and are among the earliest extant Christian writings. Therefore, one would expect them to contain a wealth of details about Jesus' life and teachings, details confirming the gospel accounts. But this is far from the case. Concerning the alleged virgin birth Paul says only that, "Jesus was born of a woman, born under the law" (Galatians 4:4). The time, place and circumstances of Jesus’ birth, recorded in such great detail in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, are never mentioned. Paul says not one word about Joseph, Jesus’ surrogate father who figures so prominently in the birth narratives. Also, Paul apparently never heard of John the Baptist who not only baptized Jesus, but who is said to have been instrumental in the fulfillment of certain Old Testament prophecies said to confirm Jesus as the long awaited messiah. The most interesting of them all, however, is that in Romans 1:4 Paul says that Jesus was not officially recognized as "the Son of God" until after the resurrection.

"Jesus was made of the seed of David according to the flesh," says Paul in Romans 1:3. This statement flies in the face of everything we are told in the gospels. In Matthew 1:20 and Luke 1:35 we learn that Mary was made pregnant with Jesus not by Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, but by the Holy Ghost. This creates a really big problem for Bible believers. First, although Joseph was of David's line, he was not Jesus' father. Second, the Holy Ghost is a spirit and spirits do not have flesh and blood. Third, "according to the flesh" could not have been referring to Mary's flesh because she was not from David's line. So if the birth narratives are to be believed, Jesus did not come from the seed of David, and Paul told another big lie.

In Matthew 23 Jesus bitterly denounces the scribes and the Pharisees, accusing them of being nothing more than a bunch of worthless hypocrites out to get him. Apparently Paul was unaware of this because when testifying before the chief priest and the Council he proudly proclaims, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6).

First Corinthians 15:45 begins with the familiar words, “So it is written . . .” But where? Here Paul claims to quote scriptures that are nowhere to be found. There is no mention anywhere in the Hebrew Bible of a second Adam. This second Adam, according to Paul, is none other than (Paul's) Jesus.

In Philippians 3:10-11 Paul declares with great emotion, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.” Yet when he returns to Jerusalem it is merely to visit Peter, as mentioned above. He never expresses the slightest desire to see Bethlehem, Jesus’ birthplace, Nazareth, his home town, the sites of his preaching, the upper room where he is supposed to have held the fabled Last Supper, nor Calvary where the ultimate sacrifice was allegedly made. Most astonishing of all, however, is that there is not one hint of a pilgrimage to the tomb in which the resurrection, the center piece of Paul’s theology, is supposed to have taken place.

Paul makes no references to Jesus' ethical and moral teachings in situations where it would have been in his best interest to have done so. He, in fact, contradicts some of them. For example, Paul held that gentile Christians need not obey Jewish law to be saved (Gal. 3:8-9 and 5:6). Evidently he was unaware that this was a direct contradiction of the teachings of Jesus on this matter (Matthew 5:17-19). Furthermore when Paul does make such ethical pronouncements as "Bless those who persecute you" (Romans 12:14), he does not cite the authority of Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12). Apparently Paul never heard of the Sermon on the Mount. When Paul, in Romans 8:26, says “we do not know how to pray as we should,” does this mean he was unaware that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4)? Did Paul not know of Jesus’ prayer against temptation (Mark 14:35-36 and parallels) or the famous farewell prayer (John 17)?

In 2 Cor. 12:12 Paul states, "The signs of a true apostle were performed among you . . . by signs and wonders and miracles." Surely Paul would have cited Jesus' miracles at this point, had he been aware of them. We can only surmise that Paul had no knowledge of the life and teachings of Jesus as they are presented in the gospels.

In his first Epistle to the Thessalonians (4:15-17) Paul assures his audience that the kingdom of God is at hand and will, in fact, take place during their lifetime. "Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together," he tells them. Why at this point did he not appeal to the authority of Jesus himself who in Matthew 16:28 tells his listeners, "There are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." T

Those Pauline epistles which do characterize Jesus in a way corresponding to the gospels such as the pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) have been shown to be forgeries written not by Paul but by persons unknown probably early in the second century. By that time the gospels had been written and distributed throughout the Christian communities of that day. The authors of these epistles undoubtedly relied on them as a source of information.


1 Compiled by Louis W. Cable.

2 The Age of Reason.

3 All dates are Christian era (CE) unless otherwisw indicated.

4 Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, under Biographical Entries.

5 Encyclopedia Judaica - population and area of Jerusalem during the time of Pontius Pilate (26-36).

6 In the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia "multitude" is defined as a number too great to count.

7 Brownrigg, Ronald - Who’s Who in the New Testament - Holt, Rinehart and Wenston, 1971 - page 34.

8 Mack, Burton L., Who Wrote the New Testament? pgs. 206 - 207.

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