Bart Ehrman has made a name for himself through critical scholarship of Christianity. His latest challenge, a book called How Jesus Became God, contains an argument that the notion that Jesus is God was a later development in the church and not reflective of the earliest teaching. Interestingly, the book was published alongside a response book, How God Became Jesus, in which multiple scholars argue that, far from being a late development, high Christology was the belief of the church.
The book is a series of essays organized around responding to Ehrman’s book essentially point-by-point. Ehrman’s central thesis, that Jesus Christ was exalted from human to deity over the course of theological reflection and some centuries, is directly confronted in a number of ways. First, Michael Bird challenges the thesis by pointing out some major errors in the Ehrman’s use of angels and other exalted beings. Later, a kind of death blow is dealt to the thesis by pointing out that even within the earliest writings there is the alleged full “range” of development of the doctrine of Christ as divine (136ff). Simon gathercole provides interesting philosophical insight into the use of types of change in relation and actuality (114-115).
Other challenges brought against Ehrman include critical analysis of his methodology (Chris Tilling, 117ff), historical insight into the development of orthodoxy (Charles Hill, 151ff), and insight into Christ’s own claims of deity (Bird, 45ff). These present a broad-spectrum approach to analysis of Ehrman’s arguments and demonstrate the difficulty of maintaining his thesis. Readers are exposed to methodological, factual, exegetical, and other errors in Ehrman’s work.
However, the book should not be seen merely as a response to Ehrman. Although it is structured around just such a response, it is a worthy read in its own right because it provides background for exploration of the deity of Christ found throughout Scripture. It also helps readers place these writings in context by showing the cultural surroundings of the discussions over the deity of Christ. Moreover, by analyzing many of Ehrman’s skeptical claims, the authors provide responses to a broader range of objections to the Christian faith. For example, Craig Evans’ essay on the evidences for the burial traditions provides insight into how crucifixion worked in practice and, importantly, how the Biblical narratives line up with these practices.
Various excurses provide documentary evidence for things like 2nd and 3rd century belief in Christ’s deity. These help to break up the book, which can easily be read chapter-by-chapter or as individual essays.
How God Became Jesus is a great read. It provides insight not only for a response to Ehrman’s thesis but also for a number of other issues that come up when talking about the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ. Each essay has much to commend it, and the excurses found throughout provide ways forward to research various other topics. The book is a solid resource for those interested in the deity of Christ.
My thanks to Baker Book House for the book as a gift. Check out their awesome blog to read a number of theological posts a week.
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How Jesus Became God edited by Michael Bird (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).
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Hiya J.W., As always, good article. Valuable stuff. You mixed up the book titles at the end of your blog post.
Thanks! I’ll fix it when I get back.
Thank you for both reviews
*the review, not “both reviews”
I read “How Jesus Became God” and the refutation, “How God Became Jesus.” Both books explained how almost all Christologies – high and low – were around very early on, and how these Christologies were chronologically *eliminated,* from low to high, as the nascent church built its orthodoxy.
My comments, and these go to both books, are: 1) they assume that Jesus’s ministry was apocalyptic, when Crossan and others make a good case that Jesus’s ministry was sapiential – that is, present here now and attainable through good deeds and adhering to the law, and 2) that the Pauline epistles are the earliest source writings – when the Epistle of James the Just arguably pre-dates them. The failure to fully address James the Just is a gaping hole in the current scholarship on the historical Jesus.
For further discussion of these comments, and a thorough review of both books, please check out my Reader’s Guide to Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God.
This is the latest in a series which includes my best-selling Reader’s Guide to Reza Aslan’s Zealot , and my Reader’s Guide to Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus .