In 1 Thessalonians 2:14–16, there is an explicit statement that Jesus was killed by the Jews:
14 ὑμεῖς γὰρ μιμηταὶ ἐγενήθητε ἀδελφοί τῶν ἐκκλησιῶν τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν οὐσῶν ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὅτι τὰ αὐτὰ ἐπάθετε καὶ ὑμεῖς ὑπὸ τῶν ἰδίων συμφυλετῶν καθὼς καὶ αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων
14 Be imitators, brothers, of the churches of God that are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because you yourselves suffer the same things by your own fellow citizens as they do by the Jews (or the Judeans),
15 τῶν καὶ τὸν κύριον ἀποκτεινάντων Ἰησοῦν καὶ τοὺς προφήτας καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐκδιωξάντων καὶ θεῷ μὴ ἀρεσκόντων καὶ πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις ἐναντίων
15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us, and are not pleasing to God and to all people,
16 κωλυόντων ἡμᾶς τοῖς ἔθνεσιν λαλῆσαι ἵνα σωθῶσιν εἰς τὸ ἀναπληρῶσαι αὐτῶν τὰς ἁμαρτίας πάντοτε ἔφθασεν δὲ ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἡ ὀργὴ εἰς τέλος
16 who forbade us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved, in order to fill up the full measure of their sins always. But wrath has come upon them at last.
In Did Jesus Exist Bart D. Ehrman, much to my surprise, defends the authenticity of this passage. (Above, for the sake of convenience, I am using the translation Ehrman provides in his book.) I have searched his other books to see whether he changed his mind or actually held this position earlier. In God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer from 2008, he discusses this passage on p. 148ff without giving a hint [as far as I can tell through the preview at Amazon] that it might not be genuine. So obviously he has for some time believed that this passage was indeed written by Paul.
In Did Jesus Exist Ehrman writes:
Paul thinks that Jesus was killed at the instigation of “the Jews.” This is indicated in a passage that is much disputed—in this instance, not just among mythicists.
Ehrman is accordingly (and naturally) fully aware of the fact that this passage is disputed, in part or in its entirety. Paula Fredriksen, Pheme Perkins, Daryl Schmidt, Burton Mack, Birger A. Pearson, Wayne Meeks, Helmut Koester, S. G. F. Brandon, Paul W. Schmiedel, Richard Carrier, Raymond Brown and many more have suggested that the passage was in part or in its entirety not written by Paul.
After quoting 1 Thess 2:14–16, Ehrman refers to the last sentence where the wrath (of God) is said to have come upon the Jews at last:
It is this last sentence that has caused interpreters problems. What could Paul mean that the wrath of God has finally come upon the Jews (or Judeans)? That would seem to make sense if Paul were writing in the years after the destruction of the city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans, that is, after 70 CE. But it seems to make less sense when this letter was actually written, around 49 CE. For that reason a number of scholars have argued that this entire passage has been inserted into 1 Thessalonians and that Paul therefore did not write it. In this view some Christian scribe, copying the letter after the destruction of Jerusalem, added it.
But Ehrman objects to this:
I myself do not agree with this interpretation, for a number of reasons. To begin with, if the only part of the passage that seems truly odd on the pen of Paul is the last sentence, then it would make better sense simply to say that it is this sentence that was added by the hypothetical Christian scribe. There is no reason to doubt the entire passage, just the last few words.
Ehrman makes a conditional sentence by saying “if the only part of the passage that seems truly odd on the pen of Paul is the last sentence, then …”. But he never discusses what the options are if also other parts of the passage are odd. In fact, he begins by saying, “if”, and then simply assumes that to be the case. I will soon return to the other objections.
But I do not doubt even these. For one thing, what is the hard evidence that the words were not in the letter of 1 Thessalonians as Paul wrote it? There is none. We do not of course have the original of l Thessalonians; we have only later copies made by scribes. But in not a single one of these manuscripts is the line (let alone the paragraph) missing. Every surviving manuscript includes it. If the passage was added sometime after the fall of Jerusalem, say, near the end of the first Christian century or even in the second, when Christians started blaming the fall of Jerusalem on the fact that the Jews had killed Jesus, why is it that none of the manuscripts of l Thessalonians that were copied before the insertion was made left any trace on the manuscript record? Why were the older copies not copied at all? I think there needs to be better evidence of a scribal insertion before we are certain that it happened. And recall, we are not talking about the entire paragraph but only the last line.
I find this reasoning to be strained, particularly since the one who is making it is Bart Ehrman. First of all, it is not “we” but Ehrman who is only talking about the last line. It is he who has quickly travelled from “if the only part … is the last sentence” to “only the last line”. Secondly, are we only to suspect forgeries in those cases where we actually have textual evidence that the text is forged? This would mean that all forgeries could in fact be detected, since they all would show up as textual variants. Thirdly, the oldest manuscript containing First Thessalonians is p46 from c. 200 CE, and this does not even include 1 Thess 2:14-16. In fact, as far as I can tell, 1 Thess 2:14–16 is not attested anywhere until Codex Sinaiticus in the fourth century and this might even be the only evidence from the fourth century of this passage. Even though it is not missing in any single manuscripts where the lines are preserved and though it of course could be quoted by some Church Father, there really are not many early witnesses to this passage.
In fact, we can think of this as a three-stage rocket. First we have those few instances where we can be fairly certain that a word, a line, a chapter or an entire book is forged. For instance the ending of Mark (16:9–20) and the story of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1–11) has so much textual evidence that we “know” they were not originally in the Gospels of Mark and John respectively. Then we have those instances where we have ambiguous textual evidence, supporting different readings. They are (I suppose) more numerous and we can often guess the more probable reading. Finally we have those passages which have no or nearly no textual support for any other reading than the normative. In some of these cases the text looks really suspicious, but we have no way of knowing if an original reading has been altered. In fact, if the analogy with increasing number is valid, this group should include the majority of all alterations, although we have only a remote possibility of spotting most of them. If there are no obvious signs of forgery and no textual support for this, then we must assume that the text is genuine, although it might not be what the author actually wrote.
The problem here is what to do with quite obvious forgeries without any textual support? Are we to believe without textual evidence that the Jesus-saying in Matthew 16:18, that “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church”, was actually written by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, although this looks like a perfect example of something added to support the Roman Church?
Ehrman himself thinks that Second Thessalonians is a forgery because the author of that letter holds views that are opposed those that Paul holds in First Thessalonians:
It is particularly interesting that the author of 2 Thessalonians indicates that he taught his converts all these things already, when he was with them (2:5). If that’s the case, then how can one explain 1 Thessalonians? The problem there is that people think the end is supposed to come any day now, based on what Paul told them. But according to 2 Thessalonians Paul never taught any such thing. He taught that a whole sequence of events had to transpire before the end came. Moreover, if that is what he taught them, as 2 Thessalonians insists, then it is passing strange that he never reminds them of this teaching in 1 Thessalonians, where they obviously think that they were taught something else. (Bart D. Ehrman, Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are, p. 107)
In his exposition of the Testimonium Flavianum, Ehrman on the other hand accepts (or at least postulates) that there originally was a different and peeled-off version of the Testimonium written by Josephus, although not in a single one of the preserved manuscripts is this reconstruction supported. To paraphrase Ehrman, what is the hard evidence for that version in Josephus? There is none. We do not of course have the original of the Antiquities of the Jews; we have only later copies made by scribes. But every surviving Greek manuscript includes the normative version of the Testimonium. If an original passage was altered sometime before Eusebius in the third century, why is it that none of the manuscripts of either Josephus or Eusebius has left any trace on the manuscript record? Why were the older copies not copied at all?
Then what are we to make of 1 Thess 2:14–16? Is it really that important that the text is present in every one of the later manuscripts? I do not think so; because there are solid indications that Paul could not have written this.
1) First of all, the fact that the wrath of God is said to have finally come upon the Jews definitely looks like it is referring to some catastrophic event that befell the Jews in the past. The obvious catastrophe is the destruction of the Templein 70 CE and the banishment of the Jews. And since First Thessalonians is believed to have been written by Paul c. 50 CE, he cannot possibly have known about this. One can therefore assume that this was written by someone other than Paul at any time after 70 CE. Any attempts to link this to Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome maybe in the late 40’s are vain, not least because this letter of Paul is written to the church members of Thessaloniki.
2) Nowhere else is Paul writing that the wrath of God already has come or is coming. At other occasions he writes about God’s wrath as something that will come in the future. See for example, Romans 2:5, 3:5, 4:15, 5:9 and so on.
3) The anti-Jewish tone where the Jews are enemies [Ehrman translates this as “not pleasing”, however ἐναντίος rather means “opposed”] of all mankind, is in glaring contrast to what Paul writes elsewhere. Paul is depicted here as really intransigent, while elsewhere he hopes that the Jews eventually will turn to Christ. One could say that Paul here is taking the opposite position of the one we encounter in Romans chapter 9 to 11. In Romans 11:25–28, Paul says that all the Jews will be saved: “And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written”. 1 Thess 2:14–16 reflects thus seemingly a later and more Hellenistic anti-Jewish view, compared to Paul’s more pro-Jewish view. This argument is quite the same as the one Ehrman advances in order to deem 2 Thessalonians as non-Pauline; and besides, this sentence is also found in verse 15, the part which Ehrman sees no reason to suspect that Paul did not write.
4) The line that it was the Jews who “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets” also implies that Paul himself was not a Jew, which he obviously was and also said he was. In fact it was “the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus” and “they persecuted us”, and “they are not pleasing to God” and “they might be saved” and “wrath has come upon them”. In for instance Romans 11:1 Paul writes: “I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” (see also Rom 9:3–5, 1 Cor 9:20 and Gal 2:15). Even more, many members of the congregations to which Paul wrote were also Jews. (see for instance Rom 9:24, 10:12 and 1 Cor 12:13). Why would he say to them that the Jews were enemies of all mankind?
5) And finally, only in this passage does Paul blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. For example in 1 Corinthians 2:8, he instead argues that Jesus was killed by lower spiritual beings (“the rulers [archontes] of this age”). It is also quite obvious in Romans chapter 11 that Paul does not know that the Jews killed Jesus. In 11:3 he cites the words of Elijah in 1 Kings, namely that the Jews in the past had killed God’s prophets. Paul probably wrote Romans several years after he wrote 1 Thessalonians. If Paul already several years earlier when he wrote 1 Thessalonians had known that the Jews had killed Jesus, it is almost inevitable that he would have said so in Romans chapter 11 when he claimed that they killed God’s prophets. But Paul does not even hint at that. This is an additional indication that he had never heard that the Jews would have killed Jesus, and therefore did not write in 1 Thessalonians that they did.
There are accordingly good reasons to suspect that not only the last sentence in 1 Thess 2:16 is an addition, but that the entirety of 1 Thess 2:14–16 was not written by Paul.
Neil Godfrey lists even more arguments from Birger Pearson in favour of the passage being a forgery. Apart from the reasons I already have given, he says …
a) The passage begins a second “thanksgiving section” in the letter — something that appears to be an anomaly in Paul’s letters
b) This same passage begins with a repetition of the same words and phrases (or identical ones) as had been already written in 1:13ff [sic! 2:13ff?].
c) The passage intrudes into a ‘travelogue’ or ‘apostolic parousia’ section, something used by Paul to declare his travel plans and desire to be with the congregation, etc. — Paul nowhere else breaks up a ‘travelogue’ section
d) The passage urges one church to follow another church as an example — while elsewhere (including in chapter one of this same letter) Paul commands his churches to follow him, or praises them for doing so, as he follows Christ
e) This passage points to a period of persecution of Christians in Judea between 44 and 66 (when the Jewish War against Rome began) CE — there is no other evidence for such persecution
Nevertheless, Ehrman gives additional reason to why he believes the passage was indeed written by Paul. He says:
The other point to stress is that Paul did think the wrath of God was already manifesting itself in this world. A key passage is Romans 1:18–32, where Paul states unequivocally, “For the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven on all human ungodliness and unrighteousness, among those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” When Paul says that God’s wrath is “being revealed,” he does not simply mean that it is there to be seen in some ethereal way. He means it is being manifested, powerfully made present. God’s wrath is even now being directed against all godless and unrighteous behavior. In this passage in Romans Paul is talking about God’s wrath now being directed against pagans who refuse to acknowledge him here at the end of time before Jesus returns from heaven. It would not be at all strange to think that he also thought that God’s wrath was being manifest against those Jewish people who also acted in such ungodly and unrighteous ways. And he has a full list of offenses against which God has responded.
This is though something quite different, as it here is said that he wrath of God is being revealed, while in 1 Thess 2:16 the wrath of God already has struck the Jews, meaning he already has “punished” them. This really suggests that the author had the destruction of the temple in mind. Further, we still have the statement in 2:15 that the Jews are opposed to (the enemies of) all people.
This is anyway how Ehrman summarises his discussion of the passage:
In short, I think that Paul originally wrote l Thessalonians 2:14-16. He certainly wrote everything up to verse 16. What this means, then, is that Paul believes that it was the Jews (or the Judeans) who were ultimately responsible for killing Jesus, a view shared by the writers of the Gospels as well, even though it does not sit well with those of us today who are outraged by the wicked use to which such views were put in the history of anti-Semitism.
Did you notice the shift from think to certainly to a fact?
a) Ehrman thinks that Paul originally wrote l Thessalonians 2:14-16. He gives two reasons for this, there is no textual evidence to the contrary and Paul thought that the wrath of God was already manifesting itself in this world. To me these arguments are weak, but still they are valid arguments and obviously they have made him think that the passage was written by Paul.
b) It is however a mystery how Ehrman can go from a personal opinion that l Thess 2:14-16 was written by Paul to a “certainty” that all of the verses 14 and 15 plus the beginning of verse 16 is genuine? He has not produced a shred of evidence that this would be the case, simply stated this as a fact of certainty.
c) The next leap is yet even more breathtaking. From an unwarranted certainty he moves to make his case that “this means …that Paul believes that it was the Jews … who were ultimately responsible for killing Jesus”. To further emphasize this, he calls on the Gospels and thereby tries to prove that Paul was aware of the Gospel stories. But was not that what he was supposed to prove without bringing in the Gospels?
Ehrman thinks that Paul wrote all of l Thess 2:14-16 and from this, his own personal opinion, he draws the conclusion that this means that Paul believes that it was the Jews) who were ultimately responsible for killing Jesus. To this can also be added that Ehrman says that Paul believed that they were responsible for killing Jesus, not that they actually killed him. However, the author of l Thess 2:14-16 does not say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, but that that they actually killed him themselves. Ehrman has made an interpretation of the passage based on the Gospel stories, and thereby managed to find a point of agreement with the Gospel story that is not found in the passage. He can thereby use these circumstances to claim that Paul was aware that the Jews killed Jesus (who then obviously must have been a real person); and that he was killed around the year 30 CE, as is confirmed by “the fact” that he knows the Gospel story (that says that Jesus was killed c. 30 CE) which depicts the Jews as “responsible for killing Jesus” although not actually doing the killing themselves.
However, if there is any passage in the entire New Testament, where there is no textual support but which nevertheless is likely to have been added afterwards by someone else than the original author, then that passage is l Thessalonians 2:14-16.
Roger Viklund, May 2, 2012