Did The Earliest Christians Believe Jesus Existed?

When I refer to early Christians, I am referring to Christians before the year 250CE.

In this post, I refer to those Christianities, later called heresies by an evolving Orthodoxy in collaboration with the Roman government and its hegemonic military.

Jesus Christ did exist.  He did not exist in the way we intuitively think about the term “exist”, which is to say, as a unique, autonomous individual, but nevertheless he existed…lots of times.  There were many Jesus Christs!  I leave it to the reader to decide whether this condition is equivalent to non-existence.

To the earliest Christians, Jesus Christ was the member of the generation who possessed the Spirit – not the Spirit originating on Earth by the ruler of this world, but rather, the Spirit which was created in a realm above and sent to lead the way out of this material hellhole.  This Spirit was transient, and would leave a person before their death.   It was called the Paraclete. This early Christian framework is clearly attested by Irenaeus and other heresy hunters who were hell-bent on purging the Christianity which (IMHO) they first hijacked for their own political purposes.  It is also detectable in the Synoptic Gospels, when Jesus asks God why he abandoned him (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46).  This passage is perfectly compatible with this Spirit adoption idea which was so common among early Christian groups, such as the Ebionites, Cerinthians, and Carpocratians.

We glean the point of the earliest Gospels from Paul in Galatians 3:1, when he said “It was in front of your own eyes Christ was portrayed as being crucified”.

Paul’s lament in Galatians 3 was a clear allusion to a dramatic depiction, common in mystery religions of the 1st and 2nd centuries.  Given Paul’s regular references to his own Gospel, I think this is what the earliest proto-Gospel was – a dramatic depiction performed for the benefit of new proselytes, perhaps children and those who could not read, but no doubt enjoyed by the community.

For the earliest Mark consumers, notably the Basilideans, the Spirit which Jesus inherited after baptism was given up prior to his crucifixion.  The Spirit migrated to the one who bore Jesus Christ’s cross, which in the Gospel of Mark was Simon of Cyrene.  Consider that same Paul letter, Galatians, 6:14:  “May I never boast except in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me.”  Paul was claiming to be in the same role as Simon of Cyrene!


One of the earliest writers against these early Christianities, Irenaeus, gives 3 early Christian sects which all hold similar views about Jesus Christ:  the Ebionites, the Cerinthians, and the Carpocratians.  The Ebionites and Cerinthians used different versions of the Gospel of Matthew, where the Carpocratians used either Matthew or Luke (perhaps a harmonization of both).  However, one distinction Irenaeus makes is that the Carpocratians used Paul’s letters (at least Romans).

Irenaeus gives an interesting description of Carpocrates that cracks the “mystery” wide open.  Irenaeus writes “[Jesus] perfectly remembered those things which he had witnessed within the sphere of the unbegotten God…”

Could this be why Paul often complained about the pains of child birth (Galatians 4:19), and why he was born from a miscarriage (1 Corinthians 15:7-8)?  And why he was set apart from his mother’s womb by God (Gal 1:15), and “…crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

The point of the mystery, at least that which is most evident to this observer, was that the Gospel of Mark occurred in the heavenly Judea, and one of the final acts before the story’s 2nd hero, Simon of Cyrene, descended to the material realm, was that he had to carry Jesus Christ’s cross, which would cause the proper eruptions in the heavens (Revelation 8:5), which would create a path for the spiritual believers to traverse so that they could escape the material realm and the malevolent rulers who controlled it.

The Gospel story was simply the first instance of the Spirit taking this path to get to Earth.  Once on earth, the Spirit could inhabit those practitioners of white magic who experienced enough material phenomena (Against Heresies i.25) and had “rendered unto Caesar” (code for the ruler of this Earth) those material possessions which were most prized by humans.  This is why, in Matthew and Luke, Jesus said that practitioners were not getting out of this prison until they’ve paid the very last penny (Matthew 5:26, Luke 12:59).

There were probably many of these Paracletes who claimed to be Jesus Christ:  Paul, Simon Magus, Simon of Cyrene, James, Theudas, John the Baptist, Mani, The Egyptian.  At least some of these people must have existed, although we may have duplicates in the mix.

It is indeed interesting that one of the earliest infancy Gospels which had Jesus being born of a virgin was the Infancy Gospel of James.  The reason for this is predictable:  competition.  This competition is captured in various early Christian literature, including Paul’s epistles, the Epistle of James, the Shepherd of Hermas, and others.  My speculation is that the James community was trying to “one up” the Paul community, whose leader claimed to be born from an ektroma (miscarriage).  Not to be outdone by that leader who “was not born of a woman” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 15), the James community gave Jesus an even more amazing woman-less inception.


Author: Tim...Stepping Out

Tim Stepping Out

11 thoughts on “Did The Earliest Christians Believe Jesus Existed?”

  1. but nevertheless he existed…lots of times

    Superb line, and I love your idea of one-upping the other. That makes a lot of sense.

    When asked once what evidence i would find compelling for Jesus as a divine historical character, I said that, apart from actually saying something genuinely new and original, if “Jesus” had lived simultaneously in Palestine, China, central Europe, on the Russian steppes, India, Japan, numerous places across Africa, etc., and preached, by and large, the same message and spoke the same parables to these populations all separated by geography, and who would one day meet and share their stories, and wonder at this self-evidently miraculous (shared) historical event.


    1. Exactly. I think the fact that there were such divergences in beliefs, although commonly attributed to cultural and geographic differences, are better explained by the notion that there were several people who claimed to play the role of Simon of Cyrene. As far as I can tell, Paul was the first. This is why the Ebionites called him Simon the Magician. Subsequent generations needed a name for the role of the Christ, so they called it the Paraclete, but for all intents and purposes, the later Paracletes (Mani comes to mind) fit exactly the same definition as the Ebionite/Cerinthian Jesus Christ.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Ebionite version of Matthew did not have genealogy or Virgin Birth narrative. The Cerinthian version of Matthew had genealogy but not the Virgin Birth narrative, and the genealogy includes the names of four women of questionable purity, which appears to be an implicit defense of the Jesus’ “illegitimate” birth. Only in the canonical version do we get the Virgin Birth narrative. Since the canonical Matthew has a lot of evidence connecting it with Peter and Antioch, it seems that the it is the Church of Peter in Antioch that first came up with it.


  3. Aw, c’mon, Tim, really? “I leave it to the reader to decide whether this condition is equivalent to non-existence.”

    If a crime were reported but no evidence of the crime was available but there were eyewitnesses to whatever happened, but the eyewitnesses sworn testimony differed as to whether he was tall or short, fat or thin, old or young, rich or poor, or how he was dressed or behaved, wouldn’t a reasonable conclusion be that the report of the crime was false and the people confused by the investigator’s questions?

    I do understand. If you were to share your personal opinion, you would essentially be casting a net out to draw in trolls. Discretion here is the better part of valor, I think.

    Re ” I think this is what the earliest proto-Gospel was – a dramatic performance put on for the benefit of new proselytes, perhaps children and those who could not read, but no doubt enjoyed by the community.” Are you going to address this topic in more depth. I am especially interested in what the motives were for the creation of the first passion play.

    On Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 4:45 PM, Tim Stepping Out wrote:

    > Tim…Stepping Out posted: “When I refer to early Christians, I am > referring to Christians before the year 250CE. In this post, I refer to > those Christianities, primarily (later-termed) heresies by an Orthodoxy > which was well-supported by a government, and by extension, a high-powe” >


  4. Re “Could this be why Paul often complained about the pains of child birth (Galatians 4:19), and why he was born from a miscarriage (1 Corinthians 15:7-8)?” If these comments were to appeal to the audience you describe, this is clear evidence that Paul was a panderer who would say just about anything to anyone to acquire the attention he craved. That his crucifixion in Rome is almost certainly a forgery, adds to this “greatest of all Brand promoter” award Paul should be awarded.


  5. My own speculation as to why Paul describes his birth in such terms is due to him describing his rebirth during the eclipse of 118ad which took place in Virgo, which also depicted Christ and the Law being delivered onto the cross of Cygnus. But this allowed Paul to claim to host the spirit of Ishu Christos/Chrestus, which he would fulfill when he immolated himself in 157ad.

    Effectively Paul is announcing himself as the Paraclete. However because he was also blaspheming the Law, the Community decided to attach the virgin birth story onto Yeshu ben Stada. But this caused a split, with the Nazarenes accepting it, but the Ebionites rejecting it. It also may explain why Paul is called the leader of the Nazarenes in Acts. His association with the Egyptian also may strengthen his connection with Simon of Cyrene.

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  6. Hey Tim. I was wondering if you’ve read the blog of Christian scholar Dr. Larry Hurtado. I find this blog post of him about Revelation where he said:

    But Revelation is different in a number of striking ways. First, the “John” of Revelation seems to have been a real figure, whose real name was John (and so was probably a Jewish believer), and who was a known contemporary of those to whom he wrote (e.g., 1:9). Revelation isn’t pseudonymous.

    I think John the Evangelist is different from John of Patmos the author of Revelation but reading the blogpost, it made me think that canonical Revelation is not pseudonymous unlike the four gospels which are anonymous.

    Second, it doesn’t claim to have been given to people long ago, but instead directly addresses the specified readers, especially the believers in the seven churches described in Revelation 2—3.

    Third, it doesn’t claim to be some past prediction of recent events, but instead claims to predict events that are yet to happen. That is, Revelation claims to be a real prophecy/prediction, not “prophecy after the fact.”

    I disagree with him here. I think Revelation is not a monolithic text but rather a combination of gnostic themes, pre-Christian themes, and embellishment of atrocities that happened in the past, either year 70 or 135 AD/CE.

    In that sense, Revelation is also different from texts such as the “War Scroll” from Qumran (1QM), which appears to portray “the sons of light” (the righteous of the Qumran community) joining in a final battle against “the sons of darkness” (the wicked).

    I think the Dead Sea Scrolls could have made it’s way to our Revelation even though the Qumran is not an Essene society.

    In short, Revelation actually provides no basis for believers themselves exacting vengeance or making war against others, even against those who persecute them. Instead, it’s all left in God’s hands and deferred to God’s own time. There again, Revelation actually reflects a striking kind of religious stance.

    Yes. I agree because it’s a myth.


    1. I struggle with the scholarship around Revelation, because I think there’s a desperate desire for many commentators to presume that the bulk of Rev 1-3 was written by the same author as Rev 4-22:7. I do not believe that it was (although I think the Rev 1:3, 1:7-8, 1:10, and 1:12-18 were not written by the same author as the rest of Rev 1-3)…specifically, Rev 12 seems like a rather obvious reference to the Queen of Heaven (pre-Deuteronomic reform). That reference doesn’t seem to square with the ideology of the prologue’s writer (who might very well have been named John).

      “it doesn’t claim to be some past prediction of recent events, but instead claims to predict events that are yet to happen”
      It does seem to invoke historical events, though. The 666 (I think) is Nero, and Xoroaster makes the case in a few Youtube videos that the seals are references to earlier Roman leaders. It also invokes imagery Josephus described in Wars, when he described Jesus ben Ananias, and the boulders falling out of the sky (Rev 16:20, Wars 6.5, Wars 3.7.9).

      I’m not sure what to make of his “Revelation actually reflects a striking kind of religious stance”. It’s very similar to other apocalyptic and mystical texts of the day, although not really in line with much at Qumran.

      But my own view, which is borrowed heavily from Margaret Barker, is that it describes the return of the Queen of Heaven to Earth, and replacing the current whore of Babylon, which was the 2nd Jewish temple. The fact that it makes references to Vespasian dropping talent-sized boulders from the sky (Rev 16:20, Wars 3.7.9) so as to destroy the temple, is also relevant. It’s telling that the very next passage (Rev 17:1) discusses the 7 angels coming to judge the harlot. The harlot was dressed in scarlet…see Wars 5.4 – Josephus describes garments in the temple that were Babylonian and were…scarlet.

      In other words…Revelation is simply interpretation of the temple destruction, and why it is OK, given the Spirit of the true Queen of Heaven, who will come to earth to make the New Jerusalem (2 Esdras 9-10, Enoch XLII, Rev 21:2)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So let me get this straight, James the Just, the Zaddik (Righteous One), who is a historical person and historically known for being righteous and even in the Talmud is highly spoken of, produced a community of liars who were so worried about the upstart Paul, who by his own admission was rejected by “All those who are in Asia”, which happens to be where the Infancy Gospel of James is from (Syria), that they felt it was necessary to fabricate a story that caused so many Jews to reject the Messiah, having no paternity to trace they called him a bastard?

    That’s wild. I am not sure if you are aware but this Infancy Gospel has nothing to do with Roman Catholicism save for the fact that they ended up possessing the MSS, or whoever in Western civilization it was who first published it.

    Apocrypha does not mean forgery in the way pseudepigraphal does. Apocrypha were called Apocrypha because they were not meant for the unworthy. Homilies of Clement has Peter mention that his writings were being misinterpreted and things he did not teach were being taught in his name, I imagine that there was a lot of forgery in those days, but not by the Semitic Jews who would have taken matters more seriously than Romans who did not have a reason to take seriously a Jewish sects sacred scripture, and the only reason that it’s not part of the Canonical literature is because it was not part of the Romans collection, which in their view made it a fake, but this does not mean that James the Zaddik, or anyone who revered him, wrote a book of lies compromising their integrity, because Paul lied.

    I can’t stand Paul, and I am a big fan of James and Peter, Ebionite Christianity never actually died, it just got it’s final Prophet (saw), and I don’t believe any evidence exists to support the notion that the Infancy Gospel of James, no matter who wrote it, did so with the intent to combat Pauline Christianity, I don’t think the author even hints that he knows of Paul or his teachings, which do not include claims to supernatural birth of Paul, you simply read too much into that sentence, and I am not defending Paul, he said a lot of stupid things, only stupid things really, but there simply was no claim to overcome with any sort of one upsmanship.

    In fact the purpose of the Infancy Gospels was most likely to fill in the gaps in the little known life of the Messiah’s biography, and to be read and enjoyed. It’s just not reasonable to conclude that James or anyone like James would be or was threatened by Paul, who may have written some letters, and other than this maybe, was not even popular until Marcion, because in Paul’s own word “ALL those who are in Asia ” rejected him.

    Paul’s whole gimmick of Apostle was his own innovation, he did not qualify according to Acts stipulations, and also was not appointed by anyone to be the sole Apostle to the gentiles, a position Acts attributes to Peter and according to Peter.

    Paul’s team was the lying one, Paul admitted to lying and claimed he should not be judged a sinner because his lies glorify God, when not denying he is a liar.

    Paul was a strange man, probably the real Simon Magus, but we’ll never know for sure. Whatever the case is it’s not a reason to speculate that the Nazarenes of Syria in the 1-2 centuries forged a Gospel in James’ name telling lies about Jesus (as), there is no evidence for this, it’s simply a mystery who wrote it and when, why?

    But it was not a Roman production and it was written in Syriac-Aramaic to tell a story people wanted to read, some of which may be true, but the Syrians were famously scrupulous. Even when copying anti Pauline material in the Kitab al Magall, they copied faithfully what the Ethiopian scribes would not, see:Apocalypse of Peter in Kitab al Magall.


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