Mark Goodacre debates Richard Carrier: Did Jesus exist?

Once in a while, it’s fun to post a debate on a strange topic.


Richard Carrier is the world’s foremost proponent of the “mythicist” view of Jesus – that he never actually existed as a historical person. He explains his theory that St. Paul only ever spoke of Jesus in the spiritual realm and that the Gospels are “extended parables”. Mark Goodacre is NT professor at Duke University. He contends that Carrier’s mythicist view is extremely far fetched and the evidence for the historical Jesus is beyond reasonable doubt.

Here are the participants:

Mark Goodacre is an Associate Professor in New Testament at the Department of Religion, Duke University, North Carolina, USA. He earned his MA, M.Phil and DPhil at the University of Oxford and was Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham until 2005. His research interests include the Synoptic Gospels, the Historical Jesus and the Gospel of Thomas.

Richard Carrier holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University in ancient history, specializing in the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, particularly ancient philosophy, religion, and science, with emphasis on the origins of Christianity and the use and progress of science under the Roman empire.

The MP3 file is here.

This debate took place on Justin Brierley’s “Unbelievable?” show based in the UK.

Carrier uses the letters of Paul as his sources, because they are the earliest. He doesn’t think that there is enough there to ground Jesus as a real person in history. Goodacre responds by looking at the letters of Paul to see what facts about a real, historical Jesus are there, and also which other eyewitnesses Paul talked to. In particular, Carrier has to respond to the early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 as well as his meeting with Peter and James, two other eyewitnesses, twice in Galatians. 1 Corinthians and Galatians are two early Pauline letters that are unanimously regarded as authentic. Carrier’s strategy is to try to introduce parallels between myths and the historical Jesus.

Goodacre also raises the crucifixion a historical fact about Jesus, which is a virtually undeniable fact about Jesus that is not even denied by people like the radical atheist John Dominic Crossan. Goodacre says that the crucifixion story would be embarrassing to the early Christians. They would not have invented a story of their Messiah-candidate being crucified – it was considered to shameful of a way to die. Carrier responded that other groups make up history that is embarrassing to them all the time. Goodacre says this practice was not common among the groups of Jews that we know about. Carrier says that there are other unknown groups of Jews that we have no evidence for who did do that. Then he calls arguing based on the practices of the Jews that we do not know about an “argument from ignorance”.

Carrier talks about how Philippians has that embarrassing passage about Jesus abandoning his divine capabilities to humble himself by becoming an actual human being, and says that this is evidence that he was not an actual human being. (Unforced error!) Philippians is another one of the Pauline epistles that is not in doubt. Carrier then says that John invents historical reports in order to emphasize certain things about Jesus, and therefore that means that other non-John sources are therefore all falsified by John’s exaggerating on some details. He then cites the radical atheist John Dominic Crossan to say that historical narratives are actually extended parables.

2 thoughts on “Mark Goodacre debates Richard Carrier: Did Jesus exist?”

  1. Paul tells us that “Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified” (Gal. 3:1). “Publicly protrayed” here is the Greek “prographo”. The BDAG Greek lexicon tells us that this word in this context means “to set forth for public notice, show forth/portray publicly, proclaim or placard in public”. Jesus, according to Paul, was crucified in public – in front of people.

    Dr. Carrier also mentioned Galatians 1:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:3.

    “For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Ga 1:12).

    “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3).

    Carrier rightly said that Paul, in Galatians, says that he received the Gospel not from “any man” but from “a revelation of Jesus Christ”. However, Carrier then wrongly concludes that the 1 Corinthians text is making the same kind of claim. A claim that speaks to the divine source/authority of the Gospel Paul teaches.

    The Greek language in 1 Co 15:3 is not the same as that in Gal 1:12. The 1 Co 15:3 language, “I delivered…what I also received” is “the language of what scholars call ‘traditioning’: Jewish teachers would pass on their teachings to their students, who would in turn pass them on to their own students” – Craig Keener.

    It is specific language that evokes being taught, the very thing that Paul goes out of his way to avoid in the Galatians text – “nor was I taught it”. And the tradition that Paul was taught and is passing on is a creed that starts with, “that Christ died for our sins…”.

    Now this still doesn’t tell us who taught Paul this creed, but it certainly shows us that 1 Co 15:3’s connection to Gal 1:12 is not as definitive as Dr. Carrier puts forth.

    And it is important to note that creedal statements are part of the human tradition of doxology – man worshiping God. It is perfectly reasonable to expect that this creed was taught to Paul by the Jerusalem church as they worshiped Jesus together. This means it is plausible (I think obvious) that Paul received the creed from the Jerusalem church and those that witnessed the historical events Paul tells us about in 1 Corinthians and Galatians – such as Jesus’ crucifixion. These eyewitnesses are the very people who would have reason to worship Jesus in the first place.


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