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An Irritating Criticism: My View of Paul’s View of Christ


Below is one Christian’s comment about your position on Galatians 4:14.  How would you respond to this criticism:    “The question to ask of this is why make Galatians 4:14, with an interpretation not readily accepted by even non-Christian scholars, the lynchpin? What was it about this verse that made it the focal point, especially when Paul isn’t really making a Christological argument there? Why not statements like Philippians 2 which is quoted? Note also that Philippians ends with every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus is Lord. That was reserved for YHWH alone. It also has Jesus being in the form of God, and that’s a pretty clear statement about where Jesus ranks.”



I have to say, this kind of criticism REALLY gets under my skin.  You would think I’d have thicker skin by now.

Just to unpack what is going on here a bit.  The (unnamed) critic is objecting to my view that the apostle Paul understood Christ, before coming into the world, to have been the great angel of God, a divine being who was absolutely a pre-existent divinity, but was not on a level equal with God.  He then came into the world in order to fulfil God’s plan, died for sins, and was exalted, as a result, to a position of even greater power and authority as one actually *equal* with God.

In part I base this interpretation on the fact that…

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Reader’s Mailbag on Virgin Birth: 10/29/15
Taking the Pulse of the Blog



  1. Avatar
    Joshua150  October 28, 2015

    “critics” just criticize-no facts needed if they find you and intellectual threat. sigh.

  2. Avatar
    john76  October 28, 2015

    If Paul thinks Christ was a pre-existent angel, what does Paul mean when he says he met Jesus’ brother James?

    • Avatar
      john76  October 28, 2015

      If Paul said Jesus had a human brother, James, wasn’t Jesus just another human with a human family?

      • Avatar
        john76  October 28, 2015

        Maybe the “James passage” in Paul was an interpolation.

      • Bart
        Bart  October 29, 2015

        He certainly was a human with a human family for Paul. But he became a human after being a divine being with God. See Phil. 2:6-8.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      He was an angel who then became a human (Gal. 4:14); James was his brother.

      • Avatar
        Teodora  November 6, 2016

        isn’t the word “angel” the same word with the word “messenger”? So maybe Paul meant “messenger” not angel.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 7, 2016

          Yes, same word. Paul calls Christ a “messenger/angel of God.”

  3. Avatar
    godspell  October 28, 2015

    When I read How Jesus Became God, your argument about Paul believing Jesus to be an angel was quite simply a revelation–it really did explain how Paul could have known Jesus was a man who was born of a woman and walked the earth and at the same time speak of him as if he were this transcendant pre-existent being. Paul could write this way about Jesus because he never met him, probably never even alid eyes on him. To him, Jesus was this blinding presence, a voice that spoke to him on the road to Damascus.

    To the disciples, Jesus was a revered teacher, but he was also somebody they walked long distances with. They saw him eat. They saw him laugh. They saw him angry, disappointed, upset. They presumably saw him go behind bushes to relieve himself. He would have been a very powerful human presence to them. Paul had none of that.

    Many of us have had the experience of admiring some famous person, idealizing him or her, and then maybe meeting that person somewhere, and there’s this disconnect between the image in our heads and the reality. Paul was the first important Christian to never meet Jesus. And he’s the first person we have any record of Jesus from. It’s problematic.

    • Avatar
      Rthompsonmdog  October 29, 2015

      Terrific comment, godspell. Dr. Erhman, I finished The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture this week. This thread motivated me to move it to the top of my reading list. Looking forward to your next book.

  4. Avatar
    nacord  October 28, 2015

    Wow–I never thought of that verse as being so important to Pauline Christology. I had always taken it to mean that the Philippians welcomed Paul in such an amazing way that it was like an angel of God would welcome someone, *or* even as Christ himself. Not that these are contrasting statements, but rather complimentary ones that build off of one another. I seem to see more and more though, that my interpretation of the text is forever influenced by my pre-held perspectives.

  5. Avatar
    Gary  October 28, 2015

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,

    The critic making the above criticism of your position is apologist Nick Peters, son-in-law of popular evangelical Christian apologist Mike Licona, on the popular Christian forum, Theology Web and Nick’s syndicated podcast, “Deeper Waters”. I and a couple of other skeptics/non-believers are in a discussion with Nick and other Christians regarding the Virgin Birth and Early Christologies; we are currently reviewing your position on these issues.


    Nick is studying for a masters in Theology. He is a very smart man and is the “top dog” at Theology Web, at least for the Christian side of the discussions. I have encouraged him to become a member of your blog and pose his criticisms of your positions directly to you. He and other Christians respect your scholarship but believe that:

    1. You have an agenda.
    2. You sensationalize your scholarly positions in your popular books for the lay public and therefore seem to say two different things to two different audiences.

    Nick has plead poverty as a struggling graduate student as his reason for not paying your very modest monthly membership fee and joining your blog as a member. Is it possible to charge MY existing membership account an additional monthly membership fee to allow Nick to join your blog as a member? I believe that his interactions and questions for you would be very enlightening and educational for your readers, definitely for me, (and hopefully for Nick).

    Thank you,


    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      Absolutely! Just hit the “Gift Subscription” button on the homepage and do it.

      I do indeed have an agenda: it is to spread far and wide the views of critical scholars of the NT and early Christianity. (BTW: is he implying that he does *not* have an agenda?!?) And yes, I get charged with that regularly, and people seem to say it because they’ve heard other people say it, but I’ve yet to see anyone give me a concrete example. Usually they simply can’t read my sentences.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  October 29, 2015

      I personally had a multi-month’s long back and forth with Nick on Theology Web months ago. I caught him either outright lying or at least misleading quotes of scholars like Dr. Ehrman. I was having to use Bart’s books to quote back at Nick to show he was totally misrepresenting Ehrman’s positions. For example, Nick would say things like “Even Bart Ehrman says the Gospels are reliable sources”. But what was actually in Ehrman’s books were more like the Gospels are (outside some or the other Christian writings that are mainly rejected) the ONLY sources to say anything to say about the life of Jesus, accurate or not. I caught him misrepresenting other scholars as well (per questions to them on their own website). I’m certainly not a scholar myself, but when even I can catch Nick on multiple occasions deliberately misrepresenting scholars he obviously has his own agenda and it isn’t very scholarly. He originally graduated from Johnson College, known until recently as “Johnson Bible College”, and it is a fundamentalist, bible is truth institution.

      Nick tries to argue from the “minimum facts” approach like I believe Nick’s father-in-law Licona has already done with Ehrman in a debate.

      • Avatar
        Nick_Peters  October 31, 2015

        I would like very much to know where I said what you say I said.

        • Avatar
          flcombs  November 4, 2015

          It was before the site went down. I still have some but I didn’t go through it all but is was 2013. In arguing for the traditional authorship of the NT you kept using Ehrman as one source to try to support your position even when what he really said was pointed out. Some statements of yours I quickly found in what I still have as an example regarding Papias that you continued to insist per Ehrman:

          “A strong case can be made for the traditional authorship of the gospels and this by NT scholars. I find those who want to reject it just dismiss out of hand all pieces of evidence in favor. Yet even Bart Ehrman says the testimony of the early church fathers, namely Papias, needs to be taken seriously.”

          ((not true across his work: he points out several things Papias says that isn’t believed and also that the “Matthew” and “Mark” that Papias describes can’t be what we have today ))

          On April 20, 2013: (regarding the Church Fathers and authorship, Papias) Nick: “According to Ehrman, the tradition needs to be taken seriously. Would you care to tell me why Ehrman and other NT scholars that follow the exact same path are wrong?”

          ((You were again told in response: “Highly misleading cherry-picking! Papias is “taken seriously” certainly as far as he goes but then dismissed as of little value. Ehrman continues on in the same passage that with Mark Papias doesn’t quote any of the material he’s referring to so we cannot compare passages and that the author was not an eyewitness and that “the earliest we can trace this tradition is 110 – 120 at best”

          Ehrman goes on: “Papias’ account of Matthew is even less fruitful” and gives several reasons why Papias could NOT have been referring to Matthew’s Gospel which we know today.”))

          It’s not worth going through many examples. The point is that you continuously quoted scholars like Ehrman to back your position, but were often found to be taking them out of context. And everyone makes mistakes, but you continued anyway. Other cases involved anthropological studies too and the actual results of the studies. Hopefully if you are trying to claim to be a scholar of any sort you do better research these days or at least check things out when your mistakes are pointed out to you.

          • Avatar
            Nick_Peters  November 4, 2015

            flcombs: “A strong case can be made for the traditional authorship of the gospels and this by NT scholars. I find those who want to reject it just dismiss out of hand all pieces of evidence in favor. Yet even Bart Ehrman says the testimony of the early church fathers, namely Papias, needs to be taken seriously.”

            ((not true across his work: he points out several things Papias says that isn’t believed and also that the “Matthew” and “Mark” that Papias describes can’t be what we have today ))

            Reply: Across his work, sure. Papias isn’t infallable, but you don’t just throw him out. We should look at what he said and even if we disagree entirely, we still take him seriously.

            Flcombs:On April 20, 2013: (regarding the Church Fathers and authorship, Papias) Nick: “According to Ehrman, the tradition needs to be taken seriously. Would you care to tell me why Ehrman and other NT scholars that follow the exact same path are wrong?”

            ((You were again told in response: “Highly misleading cherry-picking! Papias is “taken seriously” certainly as far as he goes but then dismissed as of little value. Ehrman continues on in the same passage that with Mark Papias doesn’t quote any of the material he’s referring to so we cannot compare passages and that the author was not an eyewitness and that “the earliest we can trace this tradition is 110 – 120 at best”

            Reply; Those two do not contradict. If I present Papias and he just gets thrown out, that is a problem. I also do think that even though Ehrman disagrees with Papias, it doesn’t follow that Papias is wrong. Bauckham for instance places great stock in Papias.

            flcombs: Ehrman goes on: “Papias’ account of Matthew is even less fruitful” and gives several reasons why Papias could NOT have been referring to Matthew’s Gospel which we know today.”))

            It’s not worth going through many examples. The point is that you continuously quoted scholars like Ehrman to back your position, but were often found to be taking them out of context. And everyone makes mistakes, but you continued anyway. Other cases involved anthropological studies too and the actual results of the studies. Hopefully if you are trying to claim to be a scholar of any sort you do better research these days or at least check things out when your mistakes are pointed out to you.

            Reply: Or you might instead want to avoid making assumptions. I can agree with all that you’ve said here and still say that my point was we don’t just throw out Papias. of course, without seeing the context, it’s harder to say.

          • Avatar
            flcombs  November 5, 2015

            You didn’t even give your story a good spin. I made no assumptions at all unless you are claiming your original statement was just an assumption that I quoted. The context is exactly what you said it was and it is a quote of YOUR STATEMENT. You can read it again. It’s not hard to see what it says or the context. I specifically put your direct statement in due to your past MO of essentially claiming to not understand your own posts when challenged.

            An honest person couldn’t agree with what I said compared to your claim and say it’s “the same thing” in any way. I’m not going to keep pasting the original words over and over for you for this example: go look above. But in your argument that “a strong argument can be made for traditional authorship of the gospels” you cited “even Ehrman” as supporting your position by his statements concerning the church fathers, with an example of Papias. I’ve said (then and now) that is FALSE and that even right after what you cited Ehrman’s further statements in fact say otherwise. As I said, you misrepresented Ehrman’s position.

          • Avatar
            flcombs  November 5, 2015

            Also, I didn’t post it, but you also claimed then to have written a review of Ehrman’s book and published a counter to his position, implying you should have been capable of much more than just quote-mining his book. So ignoring his very next paragraph which clearly disagrees with your claim is inexcusable and extremely unscholarly since it is repetitive.

            BUT all that is in the past and hopefully you will do better. I actually hope you can contribute worthwhile points for debate. Humanly, I think you are just trying too hard to appear scholarly instead of just admitting like the rest of us when you’ve made a mistake, misread or “misremembered” something. Most of us learn as we go and scholars don’t start as scholars: it is the product of a lot of work and experience.

  6. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  October 28, 2015

    If Jesus was the chief angel, in Paul’s view, then wouldn’t he have also believed that Jesus was the same angel who appeared to Hagar, Jacob, Gideon, etc…? All of those appearances are God Himself appearing at different times. In Judges 6, the Lord appears as an angel and speaks to Gideon. The same with Hagar in Genesis. If that is the case, then how could Paul have thought Jesus wasn’t exalted until after being incarnated?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      Yes, I think Paul thought Jesus was that angel. He was exalted to a yet HIGHER status at the resurrection, above that of a divine being to equality with God Almighty himself.

      • Avatar
        Maurices5000  November 2, 2015

        Is it really correct to say that Paul believe that Jesus is co-equal to God the Father?

        Paul also says at 1 Co 15:28 that: ” 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”

        Romans 8 in my opinion also poses a big problem, to me, regarding the Trinity.

        16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and CO-HEIRS with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also SHARE IN HIS GLORY

        29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

        (This seems to indicate there is another CATEGORY of divine beings. What Paul calls a “New CREATION.” They will JUDGE ANGELS. Jesus is ONE OF THEM. These are CO-EQUAL with Christ — not GOD. Also this scripture, as Dr. Ehrman says, seems to indicate that Paul felt that Jesus was a lesser being than God that was later exalted.)

        32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

        These scriptures to me seem to be problematic for Orthodoxy as it seem to indicate in my opinion that glorified humans will “inherit God” in the same way Jesus does. Verse 17 says they are “heirs of GOD” but “CO-HEIRS of Christ.” Thus they are on the same plane–not with God but Christ.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2015

          According to Phil. 2:6-8 he is equal with God for the time being. In 1 Cor. we learn he will yield up that equality.

          • Avatar
            Maurices5000  November 9, 2015

            Can you explain how Phil 2:9-11 makes him equal to God, the Father? One can be elevated above everyone and not be co-equal. Joseph, for example, was elevated numerous times. But he was not co-equal to Potiphar or Pharaoh. He was still subject to Potiphar and Pharaoh.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 11, 2015

            It’s because of the last lines, that every knee shall bow to Christ and every tongue confess — words applied to Yahweh, and him alone, in Isaiah 45.

          • Avatar
            Maurices5000  November 9, 2015

            Are you also saying that the glorified humans are also co-equal with God?

            In my opinion Romans 8 seems to resemble the situation in which a father who is on another plane than his children (which is the exact context of Romans 8) dies, and the children INHERIT what is his. Thus they are not equal to the Father, but HEIRS of the Father! Jesus’ supremacy being nothing more than that of an older brother over this siblings.

            29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 11, 2015

            No, Christ is equal with God but humans are not.

          • Avatar
            Maurices5000  November 9, 2015

            While I’d really like an explanation of the scriptures i cite in Romans. Another issue is that Paul often opens his letters with “The GOD and Father OF our Lord Jesus Christ.”

            In my opinion, each of these scriptures repeatedly express subordination of the Son to the Father (obvious just by the use of words “Father” and “Son”). Jesus, thus, has a God.

            Eph 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

            2 Co 1:3 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort;

            In fact the repeated expression “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” seems to consistently emphasize that the two are different in person and authority. Paul explains very clearly in the following Scriptures:

            1 Co 8: 4-6 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but ONE.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

            Ephesians 4:6 American Standard Version (ASV)
            6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.

            It appears that Paul acknowledges Jesus’ power and authority but does not elevate him as equal to God, the Father. In fact these scriptures would seem to exclude Jesus as a real god.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  November 15, 2015

        My question has nothing to do with this thread, but you said I could ask a question anywhere! Is there a section of the blog where you discuss Paul’s conversion experience? I just finished reading chapter 5 of How Jesus Became God, and I was wondering if you’ve posted anything about veridical and nonveridical visions or discussed his entire experience regarding that. I searched but didn’t find anything. My main motivation for buying the book was to find out more about that particular topic.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 15, 2015

          I haven’t said too much about it on the blog yet, to my recollection, though I do discuss it in my book Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.

          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  November 15, 2015

            Yes, it’s in chapter 5. You mention in your book that people have visions of dead loved ones when grieving, so it does make sense that Jesus’ disciples would have had visions. I can’t understand Paul’s though. Of all people to have a vision. It just doesn’t make any sense.

      • Avatar
        keisa054  February 11, 2018

        That angel is identified as God in many places in the Old Testament… I must say you really like to stretch your theories…. It’s like you are being controversial just for the sake of being controversial. Whatever sells your books I guess

        • Bart
          Bart  February 12, 2018

          I’d suggest you read my book where I explain it in detail. But, no, I didn’t adopt the theory because I thought that would drive the hoards to buy it!!!

  7. Avatar
    doug  October 28, 2015

    Sometimes I get frustrated, too. There many people who begin with their wishful conclusion and ignore all logic and evidence to the contrary.

  8. tasteslikecorn
    tasteslikecorn  October 28, 2015

    It’s simply the difference between true scholarship in Christianity, which seeks to systematically and rigorously investigate an hypothesis, and poor scholarship, which is almost always driven by a predetermined theological position. The former is why we are all on this blog and the latter is the tiresome tripe that gets a collective eye-roll from those that seek the truth, no matter where it leads them.

    • Avatar
      Himb4i  April 10, 2016

      True words have never been more spoken.

  9. Avatar
    john76  October 29, 2015

    One last thought. To me, it doesn’t make sense (as Ehrman wants to argue) for Paul to say Jesus, the Great angel of God, is the “seed” of David, unless the term “seed” is a completely meaningless and vacuous term. So in what sense can the great angel of God be the “seed” of David?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      The angel is not the seed of David. When Christ became a human, he was born from the line of David.

  10. John4
    John4  October 29, 2015

    I notice, Bart, that the NRSV translates Phil 2:6 as follows:

    who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited….

    You, on the other hand, translate the verse in *How Jesus Became…* thus:

    “Who, although he was in the form of God
    Did not regard being equal with God
    Something to be grasped after.”

    The NRSV translation seems to imply that the pre-existent Christ was already equal with God but did not regard that equality as “something to be exploited”. Your translation, however, implies that the pre-existent Christ was *not* equal to God and did not regard equality with God as “something to be grasped after”.

    Am I missing something here?

    Are the NRSV translators (translators whom you usually defend) here leading us astray?

    Many thanks! 🙂

    (BTW, although I had certainly read — and enjoyed! — your book, I still found this exchange with your anonymous critic helpful to me in grasping the full import of your argument. Sorry, though, that the critic got under your skin.)

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      Yes, it’s a debated point. But the Greek suggests that he did not want to grasp after something that he did not yet have.

      • John4
        John4  October 29, 2015

        Super. Thank you. 🙂

      • Avatar
        Teodora  November 6, 2016

        Phil 2:6 can very well make reference to what the devil proposed to Adam and Eve: you shall be like God. So Jesus’s answer to the devil’s temptation was that he was not interested in being like God, unlike Adam.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 7, 2016

          Yes it’s possible. That would make my own case easier to make, so I wish I could accept it as the right interpretation. But alas, I don’t see how it can be. (When Paul says Christ was in the “form of God” it is not the same word as in Genesis when Adam was made in the “image of God”)

    • Avatar
      Maurices5000  November 1, 2015

      I agree with you. I’m very glad the critic said what he did and that Dr. Ehrman replied to our great benefit. I now have a lot more digging to do!

      Jason BeDuhn comments on this in his book, Truth in Translation. If i get a chance, I’ll post what he has to say about this verse.

      What is really amazing is how Trinitarians have carefully tweaked these verses over time. The NIV changes the words from grasp, which according to BeDuhn was not a good translation as it was, to “used to his own advantage.”

      6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

      But if Jesus is already equal to God, how can God give him a name over every other name? He already has it! Since he already has it, it could also imply that he is exalt above the other persons in the GodHead. He was equal. He has been exalted above every other name in heaven and on earth. Why? He did what his other co-equal counterparts did not do!

      Now here is the question: In what way then has Jesus REALLY NOT taken advantage of godhood? He has ACTUALLY made himself BETTER and has no problems basking in it! One might say its because of his exceptional humility! But if he is co-equal and a reflection of the other two divne persons, HOW is that exceptional? They are all humble and reflections of one another.

      Evangelicals have been trying to tweak this scriptures for ages. They think they’ve finally gotten it but in my view, and i could be wrong, this still has problems logically and we’ve not discussed the Greek as Dr. Ehrman speaks of.

      To me, his ability to lower himself and benefit mankind would be taking advantage of his godship.

      The alternative does not have these problems. I’m a Prince. I do not see equality with the King as something to be seized upon. So i take on the form of a slave and humble myself. Then the King exalts me above every other name. That is true humility with a real reward.

      I’m a King. I do not see my kingship as something to be taken advantage of. (How is that? Sounds a bit weird but ok) So I become come a slave and humble myself. Because of my duties and attitude, someone exalts me back to my rightful position! (In that case the reward is not real. But if he gains something real such as a better name among is fellow kings, isn’t that the same as taking advantage of his kingship? He took advantage of the fact that he was a king to gain an even greater name. Not to mention this alternative has theological problems.)

      I’m not always the best logically on some of this stuff. (I’m open to criticism) But it seems to me that if Jesus did not want to “exploit” his godhood, which is exactly what he ultimately did, this whole express not wanting to “exploit” or take “advantage” of his nature, seems disingenuine. Additionally, being all knowing, Jesus would have known this as well further calling into question how this was not an exploitation.

      The alternative simply doesn’t have all these problems logically.

      I’ll try to look up BeDuhn tomorrow.

    • Avatar
      Maurices5000  November 1, 2015

      Here is what Jason BeDuhn had to say in Chapter 5: GRASPING AT ACCURACY

      “The second lexical issue with this passage, and the one to which we will give the most attention, is the meaning of the Greek noun harpagmos. You can see above that it is translated similarly by four translations as “something to be grasped” (NAB, NIV), “a thing to be grasped” (NASB), and “a thing to be eagerly grasped” (AB). The English word “grasp” can mean either grabbing at something one does not have in order to get it, or clinging to something one already has in order to hold on to it. So by using “grasp,” these four translations leave it ambiguous whether Paul means that Christ already had equality with God and refrained from clinging to it, or did not yet have it and refrained from snatching at it.

      It may be the most diplomatic choice to go with the translation that is open to the most possible interpretations; but that should not be the primary concern of translators. The question we must consider is whether or not this ambiguity is found in the original Greek word harpagmos, or whether accuracy in this case demands that diplomatic ambiguity must yield to a more definitive meaning.

      Other translators apparently felt the word harpagmos falls pretty clearly on one side or the other of the two possible meanings mentioned above. On one side are the KJV and NW, which translate harpagmos as “robbery” and “seizure,” respectively. These two words suggest snatching at something one does not possess.1 On the other side are the NRSV and LB, which offer “something to be exploited” and “cling,” respectively. These two phrases suggest holding on to something one already possesses. The TEV and AB, however, offer options on both sides. The TEV has both “by force he should try to become” and, in a note, “or remain.” The AB tries “a thing to be eagerly grasped or retained.” So which is it?”

      BeDuhn provides a list of words from the Liddell & Scott dictionary

      “You can see that every one of these related words has to do with the seizure of something not yet one’s own. There is not a single word derived from harpazo that is used to suggest holding on to something already possessed. In light of this, the KJV’s “robbery” and the NW’s “seizure” look to be most accurate, with the other translations either inaccurate or unnecessarily ambiguous.”

      He next goes on to show how variations of this word have been translated in these various versions and says:

      “As you can see, in the New Testament the verb harpazo, which is the root underlying the noun harpagmos used in Philippians 2:6, always means to snatch something away, to seize and take it. All nine of our translations consistently recognize that meaning. They never translate it to mean holding on to something one already has. Why then do many of them shift the meaning in Philippians 2:6?”

      “The adjective harpax appears in four passages of the New Testament: Matthew 7:15; Luke 18:11; 1 Corinthians 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:10. In the latter three of those passages, it is used as a substantive, that is, it functions as a descriptive noun for a group of people. Paul is the author of two of these passages. So we get more information about the connotations of the word for him.”

      “You can see that the word has connotations of seizing something violently or unjustly. This meaning is recognized by all nine of our translations, yet not followed by many of them when it comes to Philippians 2:6.”

      “The noun harpage appears three times in the New Testament, though not used by Paul: Matthew 23:25; Luke 11:39; Hebrews 10:34.

      Once again, the meaning follows the same basic idea of seizure, and all of our translators show that they know that. All of the words we have looked at, all related to the verb harpazo, have this sense of seizing something from someone else, even when it is the Holy Spirit or some other divine force seizing someone in inspiration….”

      “In light of this lexical investigation, we can conclude that the NRSV translators have misunderstood harpagmos by taking it as referring to grasping at something one already has, that is, an “exploitation.”3 The same mistake is found in the alternatives given by the AB (“retained”), TEV (“remain”), and LB (“cling”). Nothing in the use of this word or its related terms, either within the New Testament or in Greek literature in general, supports these translations. Since the old RSV had the more neutral “grasped,” we see that the NRSV has moved in the direction of more limited interpretation and, in this instance, an erroneous meaning.”

      • Avatar
        cestmarrant  July 18, 2016

        Wow. That’s fascinating! i will see if the library has that book. thank you for posting all the quotes!

  11. Avatar
    Stephen  October 29, 2015

    Prof Ehrman

    Do you suppose Paul’s Christology might go a way towards explaining his apparent lack of interest in Jesus’ earthly pre-Easter career since he saw Jesus’ true significance on a more cosmic level?


  12. Avatar
    michael_kelemen  October 29, 2015

    In his review of your book, Larry Hurtado starts out with some nasty remarks about your success and then goes on to critique the idea you present in this article.

    “Ehrman fails to consider other evidence that Paul distinguished between Jesus and angels, as for example in Romans 8:38-39, where Paul lyrically asserts that “nothing in all creation,” including angels, can separate believers from God’s love in “Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or note 1 Cor. 6:3, where Paul asserts that, on the basis of their redemption in Christ, believers will judge angels (in the eschatological consummation). In short, Paul’s Christology seems to place Jesus in a category of his own, superior and distinct from angels.”

    “Further, contra Ehrman, there is, in fact, no evidence of angels receiving worship in any known Jewish circles of Paul’s day. So, the worship given to Jesus isn’t really paralleled or made more understandable by positing that Jesus was regarded as an angel.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 29, 2015

      Yes, he’s completely wrong about that. The book by Loren Stuckenbruch shows conclusively that angels were idely worshiped in Jewish circles. And of *course* I distinguish between Jesus and the other angels. (What is he thinking???)

      • Avatar
        michael_kelemen  October 30, 2015

        Thanks for the reply. It’s nice to have a chance to speak to you.
        Re: differentiating Jesus from other angels — Hurtado says that Paul differentiates between Jesus and angels as a complete category of being. Therefore, no angel can separate believers from Jesus (who isn’t an angel) vs some angels can’t separate believers from this special angel (which is what you seem to be saying.

      • Avatar
        jbjbjbjbjb  October 31, 2015

        Just checked out the abstract of Stuckenbruck’s book, and seeing Bauckham’s response, it seems like “conclusively” might be an exaggeration. Stuckenbruck would not, it would appear, be basing the angel-worshipping argument on much textual support besides a part of the Ascension of Isaiah. The ideas underpinning Dr Michael Heiser’s work on the Divine Council and the hierarchical Jewish conceptual framework (with Yahweh at the top, obviously) would probably be more convincing to me. Convincing not so much of angel-worship, but just that the system is looser than we have often been lead to think.

    • Avatar
      Maurices5000  November 1, 2015

      I read his comments. But I don’t see how his comments carry much force. You can be a member of a group and be made distinguished from among that group. Also if Jesus was chief or archangel, then he would still be an exclusive membership among the other angels.

      Maybe there is no scripture in Paul day where angels are worshipped, but the Angel of the Lord was given worship in Joshua’s day.

      Joshua 5:14 New King James Version (NKJV)
      14 So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?”

      Joshua 5:14New International Version (NIV)
      14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

  13. Avatar
    Omar6741  October 29, 2015

    An off-topic request: what are the five most puzzling questions about the historical Jesus you would love to see resolved in your lifetime?

  14. Avatar
    dragonfly  October 29, 2015

    Bart, you can try to defend yourself now, but 50 years after you die someone will write a book about how you completely ignore Philippians 2 when interpreting Paul’s christology, secretly you think we know for certain what the original NT texts said, and you think all christians are idiots. And people will believe it because if it wasn’t true, wouldn’t SOMEONE say “Hey wait a minute. Bart never claimed those things. These stories are bogus nonsense.”

  15. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  October 29, 2015

    Is there another field in which people more often criticize something they haven’t read? Sheesh. Maybe politics. But maybe not. I very much enjoyed the book.

    I’m reminded of something written by an Australian scholar years ago that early Christians–at least some them–believed the Holy Ghost is angel or angels. Funny I can remember it was an Australian author and the theme but not the name or the title.

    Nothing wrong at all being 60 and still having fire in the belly–as long as it’s not an ulcer!

  16. Avatar
    MMahmud  October 29, 2015

    Typical tactic of theirs-

    Make an argument.

    Get demolished.

    Make that argument again as if you heard nothing hoping that some ignorant person might listen and follow your gospel.

    Keep up the good work Bart!!!

  17. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 29, 2015

    Egads! I have no clue how you put up with this stuff. Well, here is my reaction for what it is worth:
    I recently finished rereading “How Jesus Became God.” Clearly, you did an incredible amount of work writing this book and your productivity continues to impress me. Moreover, your conclusions in this book seem reasonable and are supported by the historical evidence that is available. The developing and evolving early theology of Christology is really amazing. For me, the main point of the book is that Christology really wasn’t a finished product for quite awhile if ever.
    I found the sections of the book describing preliterary hymns and creeds to be particularly interesting as this material seems to date from our earliest Christianity.
    I also really liked your discussion of Pascal’s Wager in chapter 8 and the material in the same chapter explaining “modalism” is very helpful as is the point you make on page 330 that “theology takes a long time to develop..”
    Moreover, your description of the Arian controversy is the clearest discussion that I have read on this subject.
    Furthermore, the Epilogue and Conclusions are simply Ehrman at his best including the description, on page 356, of the “recontextualizing of Jesus” which is much like the central theme of your upcoming book on memories of Jesus, namely that the present shapes memories of the past.
    Finally, as always with your Barnes and Noble trade books, your personal anecdotes are the best parts of the book
    I have to admit, however, that, for me, parts of the book, such as the material on “hypostasis” in the second chapter and some of the material in chapter 8 were more difficult for me to follow than your usual writing in these trade books. Obviously, some of the subject matter is quite complicated and nuanced and understanding it requires considerable work and rereading on the reader’s part.
    Moreover, after reading page 132, I found myself wondering if “faith” is really a way of “knowing.” I realize that, for many, faith is the “ultimate” way of knowing. However, since people can, and do, have “faith” in all sorts of stuff, faith must be a fairly unreliable form of evidence and it really baffles me when people contend that “faith” trumps all other ways of knowing stuff. Discussions quickly end when people contend that a certain view is a “matter of faith” as if that settles it.
    Furthermore, as you discuss on page 270, it’s hard to imagine that if Jesus were/is really God, that He was not more clearly described as knowing and teaching this very important “truth” in the Synoptic Gospels.
    Although the critic described above clearly missed the mark, I would like to know how “scholars” have responded to the idea that the Apostle Paul thought that Jesus was an “angel” prior to His birth? Indeed, this was probably my main question after rereading this book. I was surprised to learn that Justin Martyr, if I remember this section of the book correctly, also seemed to have held this view about Jesus having been an angel.
    Thanks so much for writing this book and educating us about these matters. Keep writing. Keep debating. Keep blogging. Keep teaching. Tell the critics to “butt a stump” unless they can make reasonable arguments teaching us stuff. Your work means so much to so many of us.

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  October 29, 2015

      My Mormon son-in-law says his faith is not blind but that he has it because of spiritual or mystical or religious experiences he’s had. Many Mormons say they prayed while reading the Book of Mormon and then [lo and behold] they have a spiritual experience confirming that what they are reading is indeed the latter day word of God. He argues that it’s not placebo effect because he had an actual experience. To me, that just shows he doesn’t understand the depths and extent of possible placebo effects.

      • Avatar
        Gary  October 30, 2015

        Many Protestant, especially evangelical, Christians tell me the exact same thing once they are backed into a corner regarding the very weak evidence for their belief system. They then say that they have had “experiences” that cannot be explained by any natural means: “it had to have been God”; and that these experiences are their “evidence” for the validity of Christianity.

        However, when I point out that Muslims, Hindus, and people of other religions claim the same miraculous “experiences” they either hand-wave these away or ascribe them to the powers of Satan.

        The will to hold onto this ancient superstition is very, very strong.

  18. Avatar
    Carl  October 29, 2015

    I hope the anonymous critic at least reads this post. I’m less hopeful he or she will read your excellent book.

  19. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  October 29, 2015

    You wrote, “ow I explain the matter in the book: “Many people no doubt have the same experience I do on occasion, of reading something numerous times, over and over, and not having it register.” I had this experience when I first read the Christian Bible in 1980. I came to the end of Genesis 2-3 and said, “Wait a minute: where’s the story of the Fall?” I had to read it dozens of time until I came to see that, if one reads 2-3 literally, one will not find a story of the Fall as Christians understand it. The story is read into Genesis 2-3.

  20. Avatar
    Gary  October 29, 2015

    Well, it appears that the above referenced critic, Nick Peters, is going to soon join this blog as a member. I look forward to his interactions with Dr. Ehrman. Nick is a smart, well-read conservative Christian apologist and should do very well defending orthodox/traditional Christianity.

    I think we will all learn something. I hope that some of Nick’s Christian friends and followers over at Theology Web will follow the discussions.

    Welcome, Nick.

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