Was Paul a Christian?

What some scholars say . . . 


If you don’t have a word for something, if there’s no vocabulary to describe something, then the something is probably not there. And until you do have a label, a set of terms, or a vocabulary for something, you can’t speak of that something as being in existence. This is part of the reason why many scholars have argued that since we don’t encounter the term Christian until the beginning of the second century, we probably don’t have something called ‘Christianity’ until the beginning of the second century.”

John Gager

Professor, Department of Religion, Princeton University


If your definition of Christian is somebody who lives in the wake of the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Formula, or much later discussions about reformation doctrines or the inspiration and authority of scriptures, then the truth of the matter is that there weren’t any in the first century. But that is not how the New Testament would define who a real follower of Christ is.”

Ben Witherington III

Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary


We think of Paul as a Christian because we’re standing on top of 20 centuries of the development of Christianity. But if we’re interested, as historians, in how Paul looked at himself, it’s clear from his own letters that he divides the world roughly into two groups: Israel, and everyone else (also called ‘the nations’); and inside those two groups there’s almost a new precipitate, which is the community in Christ. But in terms of peoples, it’s Jews and gentiles. And in terms of what he understands by ‘being in Christ,’ the purpose of his gentiles being in Christ is that they are able through Christ to worship the God of Israel. Taking all those things together, I would think that Paul viewed himself as a Jew.”

Paula Fredriksen

Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University


If anyone could be labeled as a Christian, you might think it would be Paul, until you take a longer view. He is preaching the Hebrew God, Yahweh or Jehovah. He is telling the gentiles about the Hebrew Bible. He expects them to be very Judaized. He is giving them a very Jewish form of morality and a Jewish view of time and eschatology. So when you add up all of that, what is it that they were joining? What would you call them? It is clear to me that the movement for the first hundred years should be seen as part of Judaism.”

James Tabor

Chair, Department of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Charlotte