God’s Wrath and the Brother of the Lord

Many examples have been identified of interpolations in New Testament texts which are not from the hand of the original author. These are however often hard to identify, such that some will have escaped notice. The frequency with which such changes may have occurred cannot be determined with any precision.

When looking at a passage, the default position is to assume that it is all of one piece, unless it can be shown that something has later been added, changed or removed from the text.

This article relates to two passages in letters attributed to Paul, in I Thessalonians and Galatians, for which a case can be made for an interpolation. Each shows evidence of early Christian editorial amendment.

The first of these, which occurs in 1 Thessalonians, is a clear example outlined by Richard Carrier.1 I am here in agreement with Carrier’s argument. So, I will simply summarise his main points before going on to a lengthier discussion of the second, arguably more complex, case.

In this first instance, Paul is writing a letter to one of the communities he has established among pagan gentiles in Thessalonica:

We also constantly give thanks to God that, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it truly is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers.

For you brothers became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets and severely persecuted us (drove us out). They displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved. Thus, they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins. But the wrath of God has utterly come upon them.

As for us, brothers, when for a short time we were separated from you – in person, not in heart – we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.

1 Thess 2, 13 – 17

Carrier offers a number of key arguments that the central part of this, the mid paragraph above, could not have been part of an original letter written by Paul.

One is that Paul did not talk anywhere else about ‘the Jews’ as if he were not one of them. Indeed, he went to great lengths to assert that he was a Jew. There is also no other place where Paul in his letters blamed Jews for the death of Jesus, even though this might well have served his purpose.

Another point is that Paul elsewhere wrote only about a future judgement, in which he asserts Jews will actually be saved rather than (as depicted in this passage) destroyed by God. In other passages, as Carrier points out, Paul never wrote about a judgment that had already come.

The utter destruction that was visited upon the Jews, happened at the end of the Jewish uprising in CE 70, when the Temple in Jerusalem and much of the city were destroyed with great disruption and loss of life. Carrier argues that it is only this event that fits with the description of the wrath of God falling utterly on the Jews. But this catastrophic culmination of the war occurred beyond the time frame in which Paul was operating and writing. So, he could not have referenced it.

The improbabilities of each of the anomalous elements being part of something which Paul did write stack up, such that it is overall extremely unlikely that verses 14-16 were from the hand of Paul. These verses were therefore an interpolation, likely by a later Christian writer hostile to Jews.

Their inclusion, blaming Jews for the death of Jesus, instead of the Romans who were actually responsible, is a reflection of the early conflict between Christians and Jews. It is something that may have contributed to Jews being unfairly stigmatised in succeeding centuries.

The second passage, also evaluated by Carrier, is from Paul’s letter addressed to the Galatians.2 It contains a sentence (below, in italics) in which the Greek is oddly constructed. Paul was here seeking to establish his version of how he came to be an apostle (which varies from that described in Acts 9, 1-30). It was, he claimed, through a personal revelation from God. In his eyes, he did not confer with, nor did he have to confer with, the other apostles before him:

You have heard of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and ravaging it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my people of the same age, for I was more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his son in me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went at once to Arabia and afterwards I returned to Damascus.

Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, except (or, only) James, the brother of the Lord. In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!

Then, I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. But I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard it said that the one who was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he was once ravaging. And they glorified God in (through) me.

Gal 1, 13 – 24

Another letter, in which Paul is objecting to criticisms made against him, contains the only other reference in Paul’s letters to a brother or brothers of the Lord:

Do we not have the right to take along a wife (sister as wife), as do the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?

1 Cor 9, 5

Some account needs to be taken of Greek terms used in an ordinary sense, before these came in later Christian usage to acquire special meaning. An apostle (apostolos) was just someone sent with a message or to perform a task. A bishop (episkopos) was an overseer with responsibility within an organisation. Church (ekklesia) applied to a gathering assembled for a purpose, most often civic.

‘The churches (ekklesiae) of Judea that are in Christ’ would however have been religious entities. But these were Jewish ekklesiae, at a time before Paul’s interventions had generated a distinct and separate Christian sect.

The Greek word Christos (annointed) translates Hebrew mashiach, referring to someone ritually annointed to high office. It was applied to an expected future king, in the line of David, who would liberate and rule over Israel.

At the time that Paul was writing, a number of Jewish figures, including Jesus if historical, had come forward and then failed to do this. So, for Jews, Jesus was not the mashiach in this more specific sense. Paul nonetheless used the word, in Greek translation, in the sense of a liberator for all mankind.

It is all too easy to make the mistake of projecting later-acquired, special meanings on to the more ordinary uses of these Greek terms. So, for example, James the Just, who called Paul to account, was a senior Jewish figure in Jerusalem. He could therefore have been accurately described as an episkopos (overseer). But this does not mean that he was, in a later-developed sense, a Christian bishop for the newly emerging ‘Christianoi’ in the diaspora!3

There are some immediately puzzling aspects in the passage from Galatians, including the undisclosed identity of Cephas (which is a nickname or title, rather than a usual Aramaic forename) and the way the oddly-constructed sentence was written, apparently to the effect that Paul did not see any other disciples, but did see or visit Cephas and James. This could, on the face of it, have been put in a simpler way, for example by stating that Paul saw only Cephas and James.

Carrier’s explanation is that Paul wanted to assert that he had not earlier met with other apostles, as part of Paul’s more general position that he had received his commission directly from God. So, Paul contended that he was still unknown by sight to ‘the churches of Judea that are in Christ’. Carrier suggests that, to avoid being accused of lying, Paul named – in anticipation – a second person that he did happen to see, besides Cephas. This was James, described as the ‘brother of the Lord’.

Carrier follows, uncritically I would suggest, apologetic presumptions that Cephas, as described, and James were both Christians. His novel suggestion is that the term ‘brother of the Lord’, denoted rank-and-file Christians, in contrast to those with superior, apostolic status. Thus, Paul was on this understanding admitting only to have met, besides Cephas, a person of little consequence.

Even in its own terms, this is all highly tenuous. Why would naming someone he did see, who might have belonged to the churches (ekklesiae) in Judea, have helped Paul’s argument that he was ‘unknown by sight’ to these gatherings? This is particularly since Simon (called Peter and presumed to be Cephas) was, along this line of thinking, also a formidable member, if not a leader, of these ekklesiae? Why indeed would Paul make the bald statement that he was unknown by sight when, as he had just admitted, he was not entirely unknown by sight?

Carrier argues that the use of a ‘highly convoluted’ Greek construction was to ‘make a specific point that James was not an apostle (but that nevertheless he did meet him and thus must admit to the fact)’. But it is an unsupported presumption, that Paul was somehow motivated to play down the status of an arguably low-ranking individual he had happened to meet. The apparent admission does not advance his case that he was not lying or that he had met only Cephas.

In seeking an explanation, it is helpful first to consider the general context. Carrier talks of ‘Christians’ at this time, as do present-day apologetic Christian historicists. It hardly matters to Carrier, who leans towards a mythicist perspective. Belief in a mythical Jesus might have evolved over time or occurred at any time, including when Jesus is supposed to have been crucified.

But it is a matter of vital consequence to apologists. They want to believe, and want others to believe, that Christianity arose immediately in Judea in response to a specific cosmic event, the resurrection back to life of someone who had actually been dead.

So, for apologists, the followers of this person had to have been or quickly become Christians. The evidence from Acts (admittedly, not a wholly reliable source) is however that these followers went on being Temple-attending, Torah-abiding, zealously observant Jews. These were Nazarenes, as Jesus is described in Mark, also known as followers of ‘the way’ (Acts) or ‘the poor’ (Acts) or ‘holy ones’, that is ‘saints’ (Acts and Paul in his letters). As noted, churches (ekklesiae) at the time simply referred to gatherings, civic or religious. The Nazarenes looked up to Jesus, just as others revered other past Jewish, messianic figures. Hence, the gatherings that were ‘in Christ’, who were followers of a Jewish messiah.

These people, had they anything like later-developed Christian beliefs and practices, would have been anathematised and driven out of Jewish synagogues.

Paul, rejected by Jews, took his message to Gentiles in the diaspora. By the mid to late CE sixties, his communities had attracted a label, ‘Christianoi’, meaning followers or slaves of Christ, together with beliefs and practices that were an amalgam of Paul’s revised Judaism and pagan belief and ritual.

But in the CE forties there were no Christians as such, only Nazarene Jews, in Judea. The Christians had yet to be invented! Paul, who was beginning, knowingly or not, to embark on this, was driven out of Judea. This is as the later Christian interpolator in 1 Thessalonians observed, and as is described more fully from Acts 21 – 28.

The textual context of Galatians is crucial. Paul was anxious to establish his position, as at least equal to the existing apostles and as on a par with Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. At the earlier time that Paul was writing – and he does not specify twelve or even mention names – these apostles would have been emissaries from the Nazarene Jews, out of which community Jesus (whether historical or mythical) had emerged.

Paul went, as the text reads, to see Cephas and James, the latter described as the ‘brother of the Lord’. Then, some years later, he went, also as the text reads, to see James and Cephas and John, once again in Jerusalem. In Paul’s eyes, he received a dispensation to proselytise Gentiles. In the alternative version in Acts 15, 1-29, James ruled on the laws that Gentile god fearers in the diaspora should follow.

Then, at Antioch, Paul ended up in a dispute with Cephas, either the same person as the Cephas mentioned earlier or someone else with the same title. This person was a Jew (as so identified by Paul) who had been eating at table with Paul’s Gentile followers, not of itself a problem providing this did not involve the consumption of food forbidden to Jews. But Cephas had to draw back from doing this when emissaries came from James. Paul also complained of ‘false brethren’ secretly introduced to ‘spy out our freedom in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us’.

The context of Galatians as a whole, taken together with the parallel descriptions in Acts, indicates that there is a lot more wrong with the description of people Paul met on his visits to Jerusalem. As noted, Cephas is a nickname or title whereas, fully to identify a person, a forename would usually also have been given. But none are provided in the eight references to Cephas, as these are now in Galatians and 1 Corinthians. Cephas has uncritically been taken to be the name given to the follower of Jesus, described in Mark, first as Simon and then as Simon Peter.

Cephas could indeed have derived from the Aramaic for stone, כיפא, kaph, yodh, peh and aleph, with the letter yodh acting as a vowel-carrier This would provide an origin for the Greek name Petros, in English rendered as Peter. But Mark does not make the connection and does not refer at all to the name (nickname or title) Cephas. Paul, who claimed to have understood and spoken Aramaic, translated almost all of his Aramaic when writing in Greek. So, why did he fail to provide a translation for Cephas, if this word meant stone?

There is an alternative explanation, in that the short version of the High Priest Joseph’s title, Caiphas (an equivalent to Cephas, since vowels usually have to be inferred) derives from Aramaic קיפא, qoph, yodh, peh and aleph, again with yodh acting as a vowel-carrier. So, one word in Greek has two possible Aramaic origins. These are the word for stone and the title of the High Priest Joseph and, by extension, members of his family

The reason for this is that one letter kappa in Greek represents the different letters kaph and qoph in Aramaic. Paul would not have translated the Aramaic form of the title, simply because there is no Greek equivalent for it. But he could, and quite likely would, have translated Cephas as Petros, if it had meant stone in Aramaic.

So, Paul who liked to operate at the highest levels, would more likely have been dealing with a member or members of the High Priest’s family than with someone who had the nickname, ‘stone’. This latter someone, by the time that Paul was writing, had according to Acts clashed with the Herodian King Agrippa 1 and fled into exile (Acts 12, 1-19). There is thus a good case that the gospel Simon, nicknamed ‘the outlaw’ (bariona), was not even present at the time in Judea.

The author of Mark went looking in from Paul’s letters for Christian connections and reused material, sometimes attributing to Jesus versions of Paul’s own sayings. Two of the letters, Galatians and I Corinthians, contained references to Cephas, readily misidentified by Christians as deriving from the Aramaic for stone and equally readily misapplied to the gospel character Simon. Mark was I suggest, if not the first, one of those who did this.

So, here is an explanation that has a probability at least on a par with the traditional view; if only because it explains so much more. For the moment, I note that there is more evidence than just one bizarrely constructed sentence to indicate that the text of Paul’s letters has been altered. The references to forenames for Cephas, which should have been there, have been edited out, either because they did not make sense or maybe because they made too much sense.

The odd sentence in Galatians needs to be examined to see how it may have been altered from a form that was more coherent.

The other stunning drawback to Carrier’s explanation is that it disregards the central theme of the first part of Galatians (Gal 1 & 2) and the passages in Acts that deal with Paul’s interactions in Jerusalem (Acts 15, 1-29 and Acts 21, 10 -36), the latter beyond the time frame of Galatians. This is Paul’s desire to deal with, and be seen to be on a par with senior Jewish figures in Jerusalem, most specifically James, coupled the actuality of the power of these figures to control and discipline Paul.

James was someone with authority, who had the power to do this, who could set out the rules that should apply to Gentile God-fearers, who could set up a court in the Temple and judge Paul, and who had (if Hegesippus, reported by Eusebius, is to be believed) carried out the High Priest’s duties and may thus at some point have been acting in the capacity of deputy/temple captain). In view of this, James could not have been the brother of an executed, messianic Jewish rebel, nor himself a leader among the Nazarenes. He might, however, as his consideration for ‘the poor’ suggests (Galatians 2, 10), have supported them.

This makes more perplexing both the text as it is and also Carrier’s interpretation of it. In the midst of a letter which is all about Paul’s (actual and would-be) relationship to James the Just, there is apparently a reference to another James, either an inconsequential Christian according to Carrier or, taken at face value, the brother of Jesus.

It is too much of a coincidence. Paul should (if this accurately represents what he was writing) have done more to distinguish the two characters, both called James, who appear in close contiguity in the same passage.

But it was not Simon (probably, wrongly) called Peter (and quite likely in exile) whom Paul wanted and went to see in Jerusalem. It would, to be consistent with the rest of the text and Acts, have been James. That is, James the Just. Galatians 1, 18 – 19 has it the wrong way round, while Galatians 2, 11 has it the right way round. There, Cephas, though doubtless of some importance in checking out what was happening at Antioch, is clearly of lesser rank, accountable to James. This is incidentally also as Acts has it in depicting Simeon in an ancillary role to James in helping define the position of Gentiles (Acts 15, 14). Not, as mistakenly in Acts 15, 7, Simon (probably, wrongly) called Peter, who was by then as noted quite likely in exile!

Carrier asserts that the phrase ‘brother of the Lord’ was ‘Paul’s effective name for Christians at the time’. As I have pointed out, there would have been no Christians as such in Judea at the time. Paul moreover specifically makes a point in reminding Cephas, one of the two ‘Christians’ Carrier suggests that Paul claims to have met in Jerusalem (Galatians 2, 14), that he was a Jew! There are indeed only two usages of the phrase ‘brother (or brothers) of the Lord’ in Paul’s letters; these are in Galatians and I Corinthians, both quoted above. That is hardly evidence for a generally employed effective name.

While there were as yet no Christians, there is evidence at the time of a Judean-based sect of zealous, fundamentalist Nazarene Jews that some apologists (wanting to portray an instant generation of Christianity) now depict as Christians.

It was certainly the case that Paul (as Saul) was promoting an adapted monotheism for diasporan Gentiles. He was also, unbeknown for a time to Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, promoting this simplified form of Judaism also for Jews. So let us, for the sake of the argument, regard Carrier’s assertion in respect of Christians, as applying either to the group of Paul’s followers, whom he was proselytising, or to the Nazarene Jews or to both. This is since Paul, who went over the heads of the Nazarenes (Gal 2, 2) appeared also to want to have these regarded as part of his constituency.

Could ‘brother of the Lord’ have been, as Carrier maintains, ‘Paul’s effective name’ for either of both of these groups? It is possible but, as the use of the term was not widespread, it is not probable. That is the ‘possibiliter’ fallacy (possible therefore probable) which Carrier himself often identifies in others. It is only marginally possible, not probable.

Carrier adduces several other references by Paul which could, by analogy be linked to reach the designation ‘brother of the Lord’. Paul describes Jesus as ‘the firstborn among many brothers,’ (Romans 8, 29) and describes his followers as ‘sons of God’ and as ‘receiving adoption as sons (of God)’ (Galatians 3, 26 and 4, 5). Therefore, Carrier has suggested, since Jesus is also ‘declared to be son of God … by resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1, 4), all these cultic sons must be brothers to each other and to Jesus and hence known as ‘brothers of the Lord’.

It doesn’t alas necessarily follow; hence again a need to point to the possibiliter fallacy. This is even more so since what are being linked are a series of self-standing metaphors, that do not require to be followed to any superficially apparent conclusion. It cannot be assumed that people at the time consciously made a connection, and then made a decision to name a group on that basis. It would need a lot more direct evidence. And this is simply lacking.

It could equally be argued, on the basis of Mark 1, 24, that the group (of Nazarene Jews) had the name ‘holy ones of God’. Or, it could have been called one of any number of variations, ‘sons of God’, ‘sons of the father’ or ‘sons of David’, on the basis of references in Paul’s letters or the gospels.

There is one other reference in I Corinthians, as given above, but this – far from advancing Carrier’s case – supports a naturalistic interpretation.

In this passage, Paul is arguing that he, and perhaps also his colleagues, should be permitted to take along women to provide support on their journeys. He points apparently to three other individuals or categories that already do this. One of these is the ‘rest of the apostles’, meaning the rest of the apostles (from among the Nazarenes) beside himself and his colleagues. Another is Cephas, who is therefore not one of the rest of the apostles. The third category is the ‘brothers of the Lord’.

Now, this latter has to be something specific. It cannot mean all followers of Jesus, since this would include the apostles, and one category would then subsume another in the list. It cannot mean the Nazarene apostles, since that is already covered as the ‘rest of the apostles’. It cannot just mean the Thessalonian ekklesia, since Paul is writing to them while talking about another group. It has to mean (if this represents without scribal alteration what Paul wrote) what it says: the actual or claimed biological brothers of Jesus.

Without compelling evidence to the contrary, the statement should be taken at face value, though I will suggest that it is not what Paul actually wrote.

Paul claimed initially to have avoided contact with the first Jewish followers and then afterwards, as Acts also confirms, went over their heads in dealing directly with senior Jewish leaders. He had a superior dispensation, he believed, through divine visions. So, he would also not have dealt with relatives of the rebel Jesus (if historical), just as he avoided doing this with his followers. This would explain the lack of widespread, reliable references to ‘brothers of the Lord’ or other family in Paul’s letters.

To summarise, the clumsy construction of the sentence relating to Cephas and James as the brother of the Lord in Galatians provides an indication that it may have been altered in some way in subsequent editing. The absence of forenames in respect of the eight occasions on which the name Cephas was used, when these might have been expected, is also indicative of editing. Carrier’s explanation that Paul referred to a character that he did see, besides ‘Cephas’, to demonstrate that he was not lying, does not stand up. This is because the admission that he did see someone contradicts, rather than affirms, the assertion that he was ‘unknown by sight to the churches (ekklesiae) of Judea that are in Christ’. There is no support for the contention that ‘brother of the Lord’ was just Paul’s general term for Christians. He did not generally use it as such and neither Cephas (whom Paul actually calls a Jew) nor James were Christians. It is, moreover, fallacious to argue that a connection, which can be made by analogy, must necessarily have been used in practice, especially when there is no direct evidence for this.

Carrier’s theory also fails to explain what would be the weird coincidence of an inconsequential character James (inferior to Cephas) being brought in, without any acknowledgement or explanation, in a letter which was centrally all about Paul’s efforts both to relate to and establish parity with another (the real) James, as a consequential Jewish leader in Jerusalem, to whom Cephas was actually accountable. It fails to explain why Paul apparently went primarily to see Cephas when, at other points in Galatians and Acts, he was engaged in interactions with the Jewish leader, James.

Since there is absolutely no convincing evidence of Paul’s use of the term ‘brothers of the Lord’ to mean Christians (and also since there were none of these in Judea, at a time when the sect was in process of being generated elsewhere!), the phrase should in the absence of any other evidence be taken at face value. That would appear to remove one obstacle to understanding. James is then, all the way through the first part of Galatians, the same character.

He is however presented as being, what many present-day Christians believe him to be, both James the Just and James the brother of Jesus!

The trouble with this position is that it does not withstand scrutiny. The James, who was able to set out the rules for Gentile god fearers, hold a court in the Temple and discipline Paul and who had acted in the capacity of High Priest, could not have done all this while at the same time being brother to the executed rebel leader Jesus.

The conclusion is therefore that the phrase ‘the brother of the Lord’ is an interpolation of what a later Christian scribe believed to be the case. It could have originated simply as a direct alteration or as a marginal note made by a reader and then incorporated into the text in copying. It has to have been an interpolation, not only because the James in question was not the brother of the rebel Jesus but because Paul would have been aware of this. Paul would not have written the phrase; a later Christian scribal editor could have done this.

The explanation which I have so far offered is more credible that Carrier’s case and better all round in terms of probability.

But it still suffers from a few of the same drawbacks. The reason for the clumsy sentence construction in Galatians is unresolved. The lack of forenames for Cephas remains unexplained. So does the deviation from Paul’s focus elsewhere, in Acts and Galatians, on dealing with James and the apparent elevation of Cephas as a figure of greater importance in the passage in question, in contrast with other references that do the opposite.

Though I rest my case for ‘brother of the Lord’ as an interpolation at this point, I feel that I should offer a further hypothesis that would tie up some of these loose ends. This is only going to be what I regard as the best explanation in the circumstances, given the overall insufficiency of evidence.

There is no merit in adding speculation as to other ways the text might have been corrupted, in an effort to explain Paul’s apparently clumsy sentence construction. So, I will work from what is already known: the fact that the forenames for Cephas are missing. What would explain both this and Paul’s odd use of language?

The way the passage is framed, ‘I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, except (or, only) James …’, is consistent with a standard practice among writers, of giving a designation in full at first mention, and then in shortened form thereafter.

So, following this line of thinking, I suggest that the passage was initially written to read, without the interpolation, as follows:

Then, after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit [James] Cephas and I stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles, except (or, only) James …

It is clear that some forename has either been omitted or is implied. The advantage of what I am suggesting, that the name was James (as given above in square brackets), is that it resolves at one stroke the outstanding problems:

* The meaning of the second sentence has instantly become crystal clear and it is no longer clumsily constructed.

* There is now no mention of another, separate person Cephas, put incongruously ahead of James, in terms of importance.

* Paul went to see just the top person, not a mere follower or someone’s apostle but a senior Jewish leader in Jerusalem.

* The whole of the first part of Galatians is, as it otherwise appears to be, concerned with Paul’s relationship with James.

* There is nothing in the passage to detract from Paul’s assertion, immediately following, that he was not lying.

It should be added that, rather than a confusing, weak and contradictory admission, supposedly (in Carrier’s view) to support Paul’s claim was not lying, there is an emphatic threefold statement of reinforcement. Paul went to visit James. He did not see the other apostles. He saw only James.

In addition to the above points, it is also evident that, when Paul wrote about ‘any other of the apostles’, he meant any of the other apostles besides himself. This is just as, when he wrote about ‘the rest of the apostles’, in the passage given above from I Corinthians, he meant the original apostles besides himself – and perhaps one or two key colleagues.

The reading suggested for the Galatians passage has further implications. It would mean that James shared the title of the family of the High Priest Joseph. His brother Simon should therefore also have shared the same family title. This individual went on to serve as an overseer (episkopos) looking after the interests of Jews in Jerusalem, following the fall of Jerusalem, dissolution of the office of High Priest and the Great Sanhedrin and the destruction of the Temple.

The suggested reading could help clarify other references. A family title could and would have been held by more than one individual. So, according to this proposed framework, Paul went to see [James] Cephas at Jerusalem. Then, later, the brother and assistant of James, [Simon] Cephas, went or was sent to Antioch to check out what Paul was doing. Then, in Acts, it may have been this same Simon/Simeon [Cephas] who assisted in providing background for the rules that should be observed by God-fearers (Acts 15, 14).

This is, of course, an interpretation which goes beyond the point where I have made the case that the phrase ‘brother of the Lord’ in Galatians was an interpolation. It does, however, provide a picture that fits together. The question is whether this is better, that is more probable, than viewing the text as it is, with Paul spending a lot of time in Jerusalem seeing a mysterious Cephas and only incidentally bumping into James.

There is unfortunately a shortage of direct evidence for the family connections of James and Simon/Simeon. That James was, on a number of accounts, a Jew with high status is consistent with what I have put forward, though certainly not proof.

Evidence that the brothers held instead the title Cleophas or Clopas (with Aramaic peh rendered as either Greek phi or pi) can be taken either way. It could be said that they therefore did not hold the alternative title Cephas. Or, it could be argued that the coexistence of two priestly families with such similar titles is an unlikely coincidence, such that Clopas may a corruption of Cephas.4

As I have indicated, Carrier’s case in respect of the ‘any other of the apostles’ sentence fails on a number of grounds and there is a better case for the phrase ‘brother of the Lord, as a later interpolation. How the preceding text came to read so badly cannot be proved, but I have suggested a plausible way that this could have happened.

The obvious question which now arises is this. What was the motivation in eliminating the forenames for Cephas in the references in Paul’s letters, Galatians and 1 Corinthians? This goes back, I suggest, to an essential difficulty faced by early Christian interpreters. They treated the gospels as their prime source, whereas these had evolved in the first instance through the author of Mark’s mining and creative rewriting of the letters and other material.

Mark borrowed a group of brothers for the family of Jesus and he also reused some of these characters to bulk out his list of apostles.5 He looked for Jesus’ chief follower Simon and wrongly identified this in the person of [Simon] Cephas and then, also wrongly, identified Cephas as meaning Petros, that is Peter.6

In the light of Mark’s rewriting, some of the references in Paul’s letters no longer made sense. So, changes were subsequently introduced to make Paul’s letters, and also references in Acts, fit with the gospel message,

The references to James were either eliminated, as I have just suggested for Galatians 1, 19, or separated, as at Galatians 2, 9 where James Cephas and John was arguably altered to James and Cephas and John.

The elimination of forenames, associated with the title Cephas in both 1 Corinthians and Galatians, had the effect of disassociating James and Simon from their priestly role and title.

I take seriously the point that there is a lack of evidence that Paul had engaged with the family of Jesus and also the presumption that he would have avoided them (if such existed), as he did with other Nazarene Jews. It is also now the case, if the argument for interpolation is granted, that there remains just a single reference in Paul’s letters to a brother or brother of Jesus.

This is in I Corinthians where Paul asserts, ‘Do we not have the right to take along a wife (sister as wife), as do the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? There is an explanation for this which is consistent with is already established, that later editors eliminated what they did not or would not understand, the forenames associated with the title Cephas, and changed names to conform with their presumptions. This passage I suggest may have read, before it was altered, as ‘Do we not have the right to take along a wife (sister as wife), as do the rest of the apostles and James and Simon Cephas?

In making changes to this passage, a scribal editor on this view registered (wrongly) James and Simon as two of the gospel brothers of Jesus and assumed that Cephas was a separate character. The original for ‘the brothers of the Lord and Cephas’ may thus have been ‘James and Simon Cephas’.

There is not the evidence for a confident assertion of this. I am, as promised after having rested my case, simply showing how the loose ends could tie up consistently.

There is nevertheless evidence that successive editors working on Mark, Paul’s letters and Acts did make changes to their texts. It is not always easy to ascribe motivation, to distinguish mistakes and misunderstanding from the licence taken in telling a good story or from manipulation directed towards a specific end.

The prime purpose of the interpolated passage in 1 Thessalonians appears however to have been to ascribe to Jews blame for the death of Jesus. The designation, ‘brother of the Lord’ in Galatians was, on the evidence, also an insertion by a Christian writer projecting into the text his own mistaken belief. The garbled references to James and Cephas in this same passage can be explained, along with other instances where forenames have been separated from the title, in much the same way – as misguided manipulation.

But this has to be a judgement. What cannot be ruled out is that some of the scribal editors were aware that they were falsifying material, in an effort to make it compatible with the gospel narrative.

While Carrier’s analysis is good for the first passage, he failed to adopt realistic probabilities for his argument on the second. It is very unlikely that Paul was writing about Christians, at the time that he wrote texts in which there are now references to a brother of the Lord or brothers of the Lord. It is also extremely unlikely that these was his terms for people, who might have been or who might have become Christians, or for the Nazarene Jews. It is unlikely that Paul made references to separate characters, both named James, in the first part of Galatians.

It is implausible that the convoluted text of Galatians 1, 19 was somehow a product of Paul’s desire to prove that he was not lying.

As I have argued, it is much more probable that Paul was dealing all along with James, a senior Jewish priestly figure who was not (as a later interpolator may have believed) the brother of the gospel Jesus.

Peter Cresswell (20 05 2024)


1 Richard Carrier, ‘There is No Logically Sound Case Against Interpolation in 1 Thessalonians 2’, online (21 01 2021).

2 Richard Carrier, ‘Ancient Grammar and How to Evaluate Expert Testimony’, online (26 12 2021).

3 Peter Cresswell, Who Was Cephas? (Blue Cedar Publishing, 2022) pp. 29-42, 91-95.

4 Who Was Cephas?, pp. 35-38, 50-53, 67-68.

5 Who Was Cephas?, pp. 86-87; Peter Cresswell, ‘The Textual Time Traveller’, serialised online (2024) pp. 26-28, 65-66.

6 Who Was Cephas?, pp. 72, 76-77; Peter Cresswell, ’Simon Peter and Cephas: Two Persons and One Fiction’, online (16 06 2023); ‘The Textual Time Traveller’, pp.28-33, 66-69.