Is there historical evidence that the apostle Paul was a real person?  Posted on May 12, 2013 by John Oakes wrote in Church History, General, Questions and Answers, Reliability of the Bible.   You gave no evidence for Paul being a real person.  I’ve searched and have yet to find any historical information outside of the Bible for Paul’s existence. The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1997, states that there is none. The debate over which books are attributed to Paul is merely an exercise which presupposes that Paul was real, and then looks at the writings of the different books attributed to him to see which ones have the same grammatical flavor and style of writing. Here’s why I am researching this question. Paul, according to the Bible, was taught by Gamaliel who was a leader of the Sanhedrin located in Jerusalem. Paul lived during the the three years of Jesus’s mission. He was devout in the traditions of his religion and would surely have at least been in Jerusalem for the feasts. Is it possible for him to have not seen or heard anything about Jesus, who was causing an uproar due to his miracles, confrontation with the money changers in the temple, debating the Jewish elders, etc? This just doesn’t seem very likely. So what does this mean? I don’t know yet.


As far as I know there is not a single reputable scholar, including atheists, Jews, Muslims, skeptics or anyone from any background who is a historian or scholar who doubts that Paul was a real person.  Even the real fringe people who (against all scholarly evidence) doubt the reality of Jesus–even they do not have the nerve to claim that Paul was not a real person.   Christianity as it is believed today and as it was believed and practiced in the first and second century would not be the same religion without Paul.  There are a couple of books traditionally attributed to Paul that some scholars doubt he is the author of.  I will not enter the debate over the authorship of 1,2 Timothy or Ephesians, for example, as it is not relevant to your question.  However, that Paul wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans and Galatians is not in dispute by anyone.  The reality of Paul as a person is one of most well-established “facts” of ancient history.  Your claim about the Encyclopedia Britannica is surely not true.  You must have heard someone claiming this about the Encyclopedia Brittanica.  I am sure you did not find this in the actual Encyclopedia Brittanica.   This is simply not true. I just went to their web site, and they begin by assuming Paul was a real person, stating his dates of birth and death, and a string of accepted facts about his life.  Evidence for the reality of Paul comes from the dozens of writers who quoted him within a generation of his death.  Every single Christian source agrees that he was a real person.  Clement (AD 95) mentioned Paul.  Peter {AD 60) mentioned Paul.  Ignatius, Polycarp, and many other late first century and early second century writers mentioned Paul.  That they could have been duped about the existence of the most important leader in all of Christianity while people who were alive when Paul was alive is beyond the possibility of belief.  To say that they were deceived that Paul was an apostle and that he was a real person is to verge on irrationality.  There is not a single example of an opponent of Christianity in the first two or three centuries who doubted his reality.  It would have been like doubting that Seneca or Ovid or Cicero lived.   Bart Ehrman, one of the biggest critics of the reliability of the Bible has debated unscholarly atheists who claim that Paul is not real and struggled to not laugh at his atheist friends for making the foolish and unfounded claim that Paul was not a real person.

The debate over which books Paul wrote presupposes that he was a real person.  Absolutely true.  There is not a single scholar who doubts this, so this presupposition is valid.  You might as well question whether Christianity existed in the first century.

About Paul and Gamaliel, your are almost certainly right that Paul would have been in Jerusalem during the ministry of Jesus.  Encyclopedia Britannica estimates his birth at about 2-4 BC, so he was a young adult during Jesus’ ministry.  I think the probability that he actually heard Jesus teach at one time or another is very high, but we cannot prove this.  Obviously, he had heard about Jesus, as he was the most controversial religious figure of his age.  I do not understand why it is a problem to you that Paul almost certainly knew of Jesus during his ministry.  What question does this raise?   I am sure that Paul knew of the claims of the resurrection and of his miracles, because otherwise the rapid spread of Christianity would not have been explainable.  Again, why is this problematic to you?

Conclusion:  The fact of Paul as a real person who wrote letters and who planted churches is one of the most well-established facts of ancient history.  We can assume that, as a student of Gamaliel, he was well aware of the ministry of Jesus, of claims of his miracles and his resurrection.  I can think of no reason that these things create any doubt about Christian claims or about the reliability of the Bible.

John Oakes

Comments are closed.