About Stephen J. Patterson

A scholar, teacher, and writer, Patterson is the George H. Atkinson endowed chair in Religious and Ethical Studies at Willamette University, where he teaches courses on the history of religion. He writes and lectures widely on the hidden histories of earliest Christianity, especially the lost gospels, Q and the Gospel of Thomas.  

Patterson holds graduate degrees from Harvard and Claremont, and he was a Fulbright Fellow in Germany. In nine books and more than seventy-five articles, essays and reviews, he has explored the origins of Christianity, especially through texts often overlooked because they are not in the Bible.  

For more than 20 years Patterson was professor of New Testament at Eden Seminary in St. Louis.  He was also a leading figure in the Jesus Seminar and has appeared on many documentaries in connection with his work on the Gospel of Thomas, Q, and the quest for the historical Jesus.

Curriculum Vitae

The Forgotten Creed

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Long before the followers of Jesus declared him to be the Son of God, Jesus taught his followers that they too were the children of God. This ancient creed, now all but forgotten, is recorded still within the folds of a letter of Paul the Apostle. This ancient creed said nothing about God or Christ or salvation. Its claims were about the whole human race: there is no race, there is no class, there is no gender.

This is the story of that first, forgotten creed, and the world of its begetting, a world in which foreigners were feared, slaves were human chattel, and men questioned whether women were really human after all. Into this world the followers of Jesus proclaimed: "You are all children of God. There is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female, for you are all one." Where did this remarkable statement of human solidarity come from, and what, finally, happened to it? How did Christianity become a Gentile religion that despised Jews, condoned slavery, and championed patriarchy?

Christian theologians would one day argue about the nature of Christ, the being of God, and the mechanics of salvation. But before this, in the days when Jesus was still fresh in the memory of those who knew him, the argument was a different one: how can human beings overcome the ways by which we divide ourselves one from another? Is solidarity possible beyond race, class, and gender?

From Oxford University Press


Praise for The Forgotten Creed

"Patterson has put his finger on what may have been the transforming content of that first encounter with Jesus. Something about him cut to the heart of the human condition's most troubling aspect--the way, out of fear and for the sake of power, we humans turn accidents of identity into weapons... Patterson is right to lift the old creed up, especially now, and say, 'Why not?'"

James Carroll, writing in the American Prospect

"A cogent and an inspiring case for the earliest Christian baptismal creed being a proclamation of human dignity for all. It is not only a well-documented argument about an early Christian liturgical fragment, it is a clarion call for an ethical vision urgently needed now."

Pamela Eisenbaum, author of Paul Was Not a Christian

"The Forgotten Creed carries a vital message for our time: at the heart of Christianity is a call for solidarity that has been lost. In his careful examination of one of the earliest Christian creeds and rituals, Stephen Patterson reveals our long history of fearing others and exposes the categories used by the powerful to divide, conquer, and oppress. 'What does Christianity have to say about race, class, and gender?' Patterson asks. 'Everything.' At the core of The Forgotten Creed is a vision for communities in which difference is honored, diversity is celebrated, and equality is divine. An urgent, necessary book that should be required reading in every church."

Sarah Sentilles, author of Draw Your Weapons

"With a style as serenely clear as its content is powerfully persuasive, this book is an elegy for Christianity's earliest baptismal creed which promised that Roman distinctions would not become Christian discriminations and that the basic differences of race, class, and gender would not become hierarchies of oppression. When that inaugural creed is forgotten, Christians are born again, not into a transformed world, but simply into the same one as before. Read this book not just as past Christian history but as present American challenge."

John Dominic Crossan, author of How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian

The Lost Way


The Gospel of Thomas was discovered near Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945. Together with “Q,” the lost gospel behind the biblical gospels of Matthew and Luke, it opens a window onto a world of forgotten paths once trod in the earliest years of Christianity.
Thomas and Q don’t include a story of Jesus’ life. No miracles, no death, no resurrection. Instead, they are collections of sayings attributed to Jesus. According to Patterson, the followers of Jesus who created these gospels had a different conception of him than most modern Christians.
“Instead of thinking about Jesus as God, God’s son, or even a martyr, these early followers of Jesus considered him a great teacher who shared divine wisdom,” Patterson says. “I think that many will be surprised to learn that Jesus’ death and resurrection were not always the focus of his followers. For many, it was Jesus’ words that made him significant.”
Patterson has spent his career considering the question, “Who was Jesus?” from the perspective of lost and forgotten writings not found in the Bible. He’s still intrigued by the pursuit and shares this dramatic story in The Lost Way. 

From HarperOne

Praise for The Lost Way

Stephen Patterson’s fascinating and wonderfully readable new book reveals how Jesus’ followers told, wrote, rewrote, and handed down his teachings.
— Elaine Pagels, author of "Revelations"
This accessible but scholarly introduction to the earliest Jesus traditions shares academic discoveries that do not usually reach the pews.
— Karen Armstrong, author of Fields of Blood
In this book Stephen Patterson, a leading scholar in the Jesus Seminar, explores the terrain of primitive Christianity. He explodes popular myths and proposes startling new possibilities.
— John Shelby Spong, author of The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic
The Lost Way is at once a crisp and readable introduction to two ‘lost’ gospels, the Sayings Gospel Q, and the Gospel of Thomas, and an exposé of the unnoticed ways that alternate views about Jesus are present in the books of the New Testament.
— John Kloppenborg, University of Toronto, author of Q, the Earliest Gospel

More Books and Essays

Recent Essays

“The View from Across the Euphrates,” Harvard Theological Review 104 (2011) 411-31.

“The Oxyrhynchus Papyri,” Biblical Archaeology Review 37/2 (2011) 60-68.
“Is the Christ of Faith also the Jesus of History?”  Pp. 447-57 in J. Moreland, et al., ed., Debating Christian Theism.  Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.
“Everything in Parables: On Jesus’ Style.”  Pp. 95-117 in R. Stewart, ed.  The Message of Jesus.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2013.
“When a Man Lies with a Man as with a Woman.”  The Fourth R 25/3 (2012) 16-17.
“David Loves Jonathan.”  The Fourth R 26/4 (2013) 13-14.

“Saint Paul Hated Sex.”  The Fourth R 26/6 (2013) 13, 16.
“Sodomy.”  The Fourth R 26/2 (2013) 9-10.
“Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The Fourth R 27/2 (2014) 16-17.