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Christ as an Angel in Paul

This will be my final set of comments on the evaluation of How Jesus Became God by Larry Hurtado, on his blog.   His review consisted of a set of positive comments, of things that he appreciated (for which I’m grateful); several misreadings of my positions, in which Larry indicates that my book was asserting a view that, in fact, it was not (he corrected those after our back and forth in a subsequent post); one assertion that I was motivated by an anti-Christian agenda and wanted to convince readers that Jesus’ followers had hallucinations (I dealt with that assertion yesterday; I do not think that it is a generous reading of my discussion – especially since I explicitly stated on repeated occasions that I was *not* arguing for a non-Christian or anti-Christian view); and, well, this one point that I’ll discuss here, on which we have a genuine disagreement.   The point has to do with whether the apostle Paul understood Christ, in his pre-existent state, to have been an angelic being.   Larry devotes two paragraphs to the issue; the second one I find more problematic than the first, although I disagree with the first as well (but not as strongly):

As a final criticism, Ehrman posits that the key to Paul’s Christology is that he thought of Jesus as an (or the) angel (of God/the Lord).  That, says Ehrman, explains how Paul could ascribe “pre-existence” to Jesus, and how, as a devout Jew, he could countenance worshipping Jesus.  As the key basis for this notion, Ehrman invokes a peculiar reading of Galatians 4:14, where Paul says that in his initial visit the Galatians received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.”  Ehrman insists that this is to be read as a flat appositive construction, in which “an angel of God” = “Christ Jesus.”   But this isn’t actually as compelling a claim as he thinks.  Even Gieschen (on whose work Ehrman relies here) presents this reading of the construction as only a distinct “possibility.”  And most scholars (myself included) don’t think it really works.  The grammar certainly doesn’t require it, and it seems more reasonable to take it as a kind of stair-step statement, “angel of God” and “Christ Jesus” as ascending categories.

I did indeed find Gieschen’s argument that Paul understood Jesus as an angel prior to becoming human extremely provocative and convincing.  His arguments are supported and advanced in a very interesting discussion of Susan R. Garrett in her book.  No Ordinary Angel. When Gieschen uses the term angel, he defines it as “a spirit or heavenly being who mediates between the human and divine realms” (p. 27).  He shows that a large number of early Christians understood Jesus to be that kind of being; and he argues that the reluctance of NT scholars to see this kind of angel-Christology in our early sources is because they have been influenced by the views that later triumphed in the fourth century that insisted that Christ is much more than an angel.  That is, they are reading later views into earlier texts.

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My Debate on Suffering with Philosopher Richard Swinburne
Why I (Actually) Discuss Hallucinations



  1. Avatar
    Scott F  June 7, 2014

    Does the conflict here stem from the use of the term “angel” such that images of white robes and wings are conjured in the minds of readers, including scholarly ones? Jesus had a beard and sandals, not wings and a harp! I thought that this term might get in the way for some people while I was reading your book. I kind of wished that you had used a less evocative term like “pre-existent being” but that would be awkward. Was “angel” the most appropriate term you had at hand or is it possible that you were trying to make the point that modern hang-ups about angels get in the way of understanding Paul’s views?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 8, 2014

      Yeah, it’s a problem — but “angel” is the word used by the ancient Christian sources, and we don’t have a better one for the being that is described, even if modern people can’t help but htink of wings and halos….

  2. Avatar
    gavriel  June 7, 2014

    Does data-mining on a passing comment from Paul carry much weight? Should we assume that Paul never used sloppy language? May be he had no coherent ideas on the pre-incarnate Jesus and simply circulated stuff from authoritative sources, like the Philippians Hymn and the opening of Romans to show he was one of “them”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 8, 2014

      Yes, of course Paul might have been sloppy. But if you can’t base your sense of what someone means on the words that he uses, then I think you have to give up on the idea of knowing what anyone means….

      • Avatar
        nichael  June 8, 2014

        Thank you gavriel. I have to admit that this was the first question that leapt to my mind when I read this passage in the book.

        I certainly appreciate the epistemological(?) issue the Dr Ehrman raises (i.e. “If we can’t trust the words he uses…”) but the question still remains, is it _always_ a valid assumption to assume that an author is always _absolutely_ precise in his use of those words. Especially in a case like this where it “just” a letter. By that I mean two things:

        First, we know that even in a more formal, presumably better thought-out work, –such as a Gospel– the author, and their later editors, have repeatedly introduced inconsistencies and outright contradictions (especially when blending multiple sources). Dr Ehrman has provided many examples of this on the blog.

        Second, we all have suffered the frustration of seeing half a sentence written in passing pulled out of a piece of writing and had it used to give a meaning to our views that we never intended.

        The current series of articles would seem to provide an excellent example of exactly this problem. Here we have two highly trained scholars each of whom are excellent writers who are known to use language with a high degree of precision. But still, as we’ve seen, there are several examples in which specific, carefully crafted sentences and phrases have been open to misinterpretation –or, at the very least, possibly amenable to an interpretation that the original author did not mean.

        Here, the difference, of course, is that the parties could communicate, virtually immediately, and clarify any such confusion over the intended meaning (even when they don’t come to agreement on a given underlying issue).

        I think all wish we could ask Paul some of our questions…

      • Avatar
        gavriel  June 9, 2014

        That was my point. Since possibly sloppy wording in a passing comment does not carry much weight, we are left mostly with two contradicting creeds of possible non-Pauline origin. Since he is so confusing in his models of salvation, it is no wonder that he is equally confusing in his christology. Even his eschatology is confusing: He both anticipates the end of this world in a collective up-in-the -air scenario as well as his individual enter into heaven (Phil 1:23). To me it seems that Paul was a religious mystic , and not a systematic philosopher.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 10, 2014

          I don’t find him to be confusing in his christology at all — it seems all to tie together. Not so with his eschatology!

  3. Avatar
    greenbuttonuplift  June 8, 2014

    I am a very visual learner Bart – do you have any creative students that can present these fascinating insights and understandings in mind map form. even a flow chart/hierarchies would suffice. Side by side Christologies many of us could grasp the gestalt!
    Brilliant stuff. These blogs are inspiring.

  4. Robertus
    Robertus  June 8, 2014

    Personally, I think Paul and the Galatians are merely thinking of Paul and Jesus as a messenger of God and I see no reason to mine this phrase for more christological significance. Messengers could be either human or angelic or neither, ie, without any consideration of their specific ontological status.

    But, if we assume that Paul was speaking of a heavenly messenger here, as he does most frequently elsewhere, I don’t think we should say that the idea of a staircase movement of greater intensification is less probable, at least not from a comparison with the other Pauline passages. In 1 Cor 3,1, who’s to say that Paul did not intend ‘babes’ as an intensification of being fleshly, ie, not just fleshly, but newly born flesh? Perhaps more obviously, in 2 Cor 2,17, Paul is speaking not just sincerely, but as sincerely as one speaking by means of Christ before God himself. Is that not an intensification of sincerity?

    ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἄγγελον θεοῦ ἐδέξασθέ με, ὡς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν.
    ἀλλ᾿ ὡς σαρκίνοις, ὡς νηπίοις ἐν Χριστῷ.
    ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἐξ εἰλικρινείας, ἀλλ᾿ ὡς ἐκ θεοῦ κατέναντι θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ λαλοῦμεν.

    I’m not saying that the staircase intensification is more probable, but that this exegetical argument is weak at best. Nor am I opposed to an angel christology. I think it is a fine idea. Personally, I would find it more interesting to discuss Peter’s confession of Jesus as a righteous angel/messenger in the gospel of Thomas.

  5. Avatar
    SJB  June 8, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    Is it possible that Paul’s controversies with James and Peter and the Jerusalem church might have had its origin not just in their attitude towards the conversion of gentiles but with conflicting Christologies? If you believe that Jesus was a pious Jew exalted to divine status because of his piety aren’t you going to have a much higher view of the system of belief through which he expressed his piety, i.e., Judaism, than you would if you believed that Jesus was a pre-existent divine figure who in some sense transcended that system of belief? Perhaps for James & Peter Jesus’ Jewishness would be the whole point. For Paul Jesus’ Jewishness was a bridge to get somewhere else?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 8, 2014

      It’s *possible* — but as with every historical hypothesis, it needs to have some evidence behind it — and I just don’t know of any…. (Paul doesn’t say anything about their Christological differences.)

      • talitakum
        talitakum  June 9, 2014

        Thank you for this post, which helps a lot to understand your view on the matter!
        Regarding Christological debates between Paul and Jerusalem church, there is in fact no evidence in our sources. We can’t infer by this that they were in agreement, though (this would be a typical argumentum ex silentio, usually quite slippery).
        However, might be interesting to note that James and others were killed by Jewish authorities with a “blitz”, for some unknown reasons: I assume that people weren’t put to death simply because they believed that a dead Jewish leader was the Messiah, so do you think that James’ religious faith/belief in a “divine” Jesus could be the reason for such death sentence?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 10, 2014

          James apparently was — but it was for breaking Torah, not for his belief in Jesus (according to Josephus, our oldest source).

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 9, 2014

    Sounds complicated and somewhat esoteric as do Dr. Hurtado;s other criticisms. Is he focusing on a few trees rather than the whole forest? I do think your new book is more complicated and nuanced than your other trade books and I am now in the process of reading it a second time and I have never had to do that with your other trade books. It’s not the writing. You always write clearly. It’s just a complicated, but very important subject. Hang in there! I probably would have just documented, as you do, that ancient people were a superstitious people who tended to make their leaders into gods and Christians probably did likewise making Jesus into God. End of subject.
    I do appreciate your taking the time to respond to Dr. Hurtado’s criticisms because I did not really grasp his criticisms the first time I read them. I also deeply respect your ducking a couple of his more personal attacks on you. I would not have been as kind.

  7. Avatar
    JEffler  June 9, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman,

    In light of the grammatical interpretation of Jesus being an angel and whatnot, what about in Romans 9:5 where Paul directly calls Jesus “God”?

    “Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 10, 2014

      You should read my book! The grammar of the verse is hotly debated, but I do indeed think too that it calls Jesus God. God the Father *made* him God at the resurrection (Phil. 2:6-11)

      • Avatar
        JEffler  June 10, 2014

        I found your debate with Simon Gathercole on the “Unbelievable?” radio show very intriguing. I particularly enjoyed the second part because you guys dove into Pauline theology.

        Now, I thought Simon Gathercole brought up some interesting points in regards to Paul in Romans 1:25 where he distinguishes between creator and created in the context of idolatry. Wouldn’t it seem contradictory of Paul to think of Jesus as a divine being held to divine status if he wasn’t divine at birth, since it would seemingly place himself into contradicting himself? I say this because in Philippians 2:6-7 Paul says that Jesus did not consider deity to be “held onto” or “grasped” as Gathercole stated. Wouldn’t that imply a previous status of divinity by lowering himself? Further, in verse 7 it says “he made himself nothing”. Doesn’t “made himself nothing” also imply that he had a previous state before actually “making himself nothing”, thereby claiming to be preexistent? I found that part of the debate very intriguing!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 11, 2014

          I give a lengthy discussion of the passage in How Jesus Became God, that you may find useful.

  8. gmatthews
    gmatthews  June 10, 2014

    Does the OT contain any of these grammatical constructs like Paul uses in this angel verse? I could have sworn there were similar style wordings in the OT where a statement is made and then repeated again with different wording. I had heard of this construct before you brought it up on the blog last year, but maybe it was just in reference to Paul’s use of it.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 11, 2014

      I don’t know! The argument has to do with an author’s specific style of writing. But it would be interesting to see how other authors to it.

  9. Avatar
    Steefen  June 12, 2014

    Paul and Justin Martyr believe Jesus Christ was an angel?

    The identity of this Hebrew angel, Christ, is short on history.

    What are the conditions for calling an entity an angel? We have conditions for calling a human spirit a saint (canonization).

    We want to be sure Paul isn’t making something up, for him to later protest: I’m telling the truth.

    Do any Gnostics call Jesus an angel?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 13, 2014

      Gnostics: not that I know of. Not sure what you mean by “conditions”: it depends on how you define “angel.” And I’m not sure what you mean by short on history: I’m not arguing that, historically, Jesus really did start out as an angel.

  10. Avatar
    Ethereal  June 18, 2014

    Good Point gmatthews- I was thinking something similar– Like a synonymous parallelism– I.e. Amos 5:24:
    “But let judgment run down as waters,
    and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
    Where the 2nd hemistich validates the 1st; & often ratifies the 1st through a different analogue, perspective, by illuminating another feature or dimension. Like 2 sides to the same coin maybe. Or what about in the climatic sense I.e. the way “Jacob” is often paired with “Israel”– one transcends the other.

    Frequently prevalent in Numbers 23:19 for ex:

    “G+d is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak & not act, or promise not fulfill?… He considers no disaster for Jacob; He sees no trouble for Israel… There is no magic curse against Jacob and no divination against Israel. It will now be said about Jacob and Israel, what Great Things G+d has done!'”

    • Avatar
      Ethereal  June 18, 2014

      I.e. Jacob & Israel- Same person- different position or character. Jacob wrestling with life’s struggles- the divine & man; & Israel- transcendental Princely state– when G+d prevails in him. Like Yeshua- an Angel before- transcends to G+D’s right hand?
      1 question Bart- Is this not very similar to what Jehovah’s witness have in mind when they conflate Jesus with the Arc Angel Michael- from Isaiah 63:8-9- & Daniel 12:1- (“the tzar of your people”).

  11. Avatar
    hwl  June 19, 2014

    I started reading “How Jesus became God”.
    In connection with this topic, here is an interesting article:
    “Nepal’s living goddess who still has to do homework”
    Westerners from Christianized cultures who have difficulty comprehending how an ancient society could plausibly believe a living person (e.g. emperor or general or religious teacher) is divine, should look at polytheistic Asian cultures like that in Nepal and India. As with Roman culture, Hindu cultures do not maintain a sharp distinction between humanity and divinity.

  12. Avatar
    Ethereal  June 24, 2014

    So these ideas are not novelties, from what you have expressed before. If you will Bart, may you distinguish the difference between Paul’s Angel Christology & Jehovah’s witness Angel Theology. Thank You!

    If you will, will you distinguish the ambiguous interpretation in the Gospel of John (definite article or indefinite?): “…The word was God…” OR “…The Word was a god..” I Understand the Wisdom figure of Proverbs 8– but can ratify this grammar for me a bit?? ‘New World translation’ gets alotta criticism from conservatives, despite consistency & modest attempt at lexical fidelity. What do you feel real quick? Thank You!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 24, 2014

      I’m afraid I don’t know enough about the Jehovah’s witnesses to be able to say. On John 1:1, since λογος has the article it is not necessary for θεος to have as well, or so it’s usually argued by NT grammarians!

      • Avatar
        Alethinon61  August 15, 2014

        Hi Bart,

        You said:

        “On John 1:1, since λογος has the article it is not necessary for θεος to have as well, or so it’s usually argued by NT grammarians!”

        How familiar are you with the embarrassing history vis a vis the reasons given for taking QEOS at John 1:1c as a definite noun? Your mentor, Bruce Metzger, claimed that Colwell’s rule settled the matter, yet he was mistaken, as were William Barclay, F.F. Bruce, and various others. Colwell’s rule states (paraphrasing) that definite predicate nouns that precede the verb are normally definite, and Metzgar and many others assumed that therefore anarthrous predicate nouns that precede the verb are normally definite. They were mistaken, as was shown by folks like Paul Dixon and P.B. Harner in the early 70s, and as any second year student of Greek can see by simply opening a GNT and observing the many occurrences of pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nouns that aren’t definite! Indeed, the NRSV, a later translation to which your mentor contributed, itself renders over half of the pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nouns in John with the indefinite article.

        I don’t claim to know whether John meant to say “the Word was God” or “the Word was a god”, but the grammar clearly allows either rendering, even though orthodox scholars and grammarians are shy to admit as much. The biggest problem with the interpretation of this verse, IMO, is that the various assertions aren’t properly vetted. Scholars embraced the converse of Colwell’s rule for over 40 years because they thought he settled the question in the way they assumed had to be correct anyway. Sadly, when the new solution was proposed, i.e. “qualitative” count nouns, history repeated itself, as Harner’s and Dixon’s proposals were also embraced without proper vetting. Why? Dixon himself clues us in:

        “The importance of this theses is clearly seen in the above example (John 1:1) where the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity are at stake. For, if the Word was ‘a god,’ then by implication there are other gods of which Jesus is one. On the other hand, if QEOS is just as definite as the articular construction following the verb because, ‘the dropping of the article…is simply a matter of word order,’ then the doctrine of the Trinity is denied.’” (The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John), p. 2

        If you read Dixon’s thesis you’ll find that he was so driven to massage the statistics in his favor so as to rule out an indefinite rendering at John 1:1c that he managed to find only one solitary indefinite predicate noun in all of John’s gospel!!! This isn’t scholarship; it’s apologetics masquerading as grammatical analysis.


        • Avatar
          Alethinon61  August 16, 2014

          I had said:

          ” Colwell’s rule states (paraphrasing) that definite predicate nouns that precede the verb are normally definite, and Metzgar and many others assumed that therefore anarthrous predicate nouns that precede the verb are normally definite.”

          Forgive the faux pass; I guess I need to hold off on submitting posts until I’ve slapped on some aftershave!

          I meant to say:

          “Colwell’s rule states (paraphrasing) that definite predicate nouns that precede the verb normally lack the article, and Metzgar and many others assumed that therefore anarthrous predicate nouns that precede the verb are normally definite.”

          ~Sean Garrigan

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 16, 2014

          Thanks. That’s very interesting. Apart from Metzger’s invocation of Colwell (whom he knew personally, of course), and the (very many!) crticial commentaries on John based on the Greek text, I do not know the history of the debate. Who are Paul Dixon and P. B. Harner? I’m afraid I’ve never heard of them. Are they independent Greek grammarians, or are they defenders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses tradition? And can you give me a handful of examples of instances in which pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nouns are clearly definite? (Unlike traditional Christian exegetes, I don’t really have a dog in this fight)

          • Avatar
            Alethinon61  August 16, 2014

            “Thanks. That’s very interesting. Apart from Metzger’s invocation of Colwell (whom he knew personally, of course), and the (very many!) crticial commentaries on John based on the Greek text, I do not know the history of the debate.”

            And to be fair to Metzger, Colwell himself thought that his rule made “the Word was God” more likely. As he puts it in his article:

            “Loosely speaking, this study may be said to have increased the definiteness of a predicate noun before the verb without the article, and to have decreased the definiteness of a predicate noun after the article…The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of a predicate as a definite noun. [KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS] looks much more like ‘And the Word was God’ than ‘And the Word was divine’ when viewed with reference to this rule.” (A Definite Rule for the Use of the Article in the Greek New Testiment, JBL, Vol. 52, 1933), p. 21

            My problem with Metzger isn’t that he (and many others) participated in a logical blunder that began with Colwell himself; my problem is that he and others failed to scrutinize Colwell’s findings with the sort of objectivity and critical eye that one has a right to expect from those who offer themselves as authorities. It seems to me that they probably embraced Colwell’s blunder with alacrity because he told them what they were happy to hear.

            “Who are Paul Dixon and P. B. Harner? I’m afraid I’ve never heard of them. Are they independent Greek grammarians, or are they defenders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses tradition?”

            No, neither of them have been defenders of Jehovah’s Witnesses. P.B. Harner was Associate Professor of Religion at Heidelberg College in Ohio at one time. His most oft quoted works, at least in relation to the research I’ve done, are “The ‘I Am’ of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Johannine Usage and Thought” (Fortress Press, 1970) and “Qualitative Anarthrous Predicate Nouns: Mark 15:39 and John 1:1” (JBL, Volume 92, No. 1, March 1973), pp. 75-87. He was a Trinitarian Christian, whereas Witnesses believe that the supreme being of the Bible, YHWH, is the Father alone.

            Paul Dixon was a student of Dallas Theological Seminary, and the faculty there seem a bit obsessed with the Witnesses. (This stems from their dedication to Trinitarianism. Students and faculty are required to affirm the Trinity as the first in a series of “essentials” [see: http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/%5D. Did you have to affirm the Trinity at Moody?). For example, Daniel Wallace offers what he considers refutation of the Witnesses’ understanding of John 1:1c and John 8:58 in his “Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics”. Donald Hartley from DTS entered into an extended debate with a Witness named Greg Stafford about John 1:1c, particularly as it relates to Hartley’s thesis, entitled “Criteria for Determining Qualitative Nouns With a Special View to Understanding the Colwell Construction” (M.Th thesis; Dallas Theological Seminary, 1996). Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti from DTS argue against the Witnesses’ understanding of John 1:1 in an article entitled “FROM ‘GOD’ (QEOS) TO ‘GOD’ (NOYTE): A NEW DISCUSSION AND PROPOSAL REGARDING JOHN 1:1C AND THE SAHIDIC COPTIC VERSION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT” (JTS, Vol. 62, Pt 2, Oct 2011). This article was really motivated by a perceived need to do damage control, because Witnesses pointed out that the Sahidic Coptic translation of John 1:1c reads neunoute (literally = “was a god”). The article contains some of the most tortured reasoning I’ve ever seen in print. I’ll submit a follow-up post pointing out a few of the most glaring flaws.

            Paul Dixon’s thesis (the one I mentioned previously) was written, at least in part, as a response to the indefinite rendering of QEOS John 1:1c (“a god”) that one finds in the NWT (New World Translation). We know that Dixon had the NWT in mind because he specifically addresses that version in his thesis as an example of one of the two understandings he sought to refute for theological reasons:

            “There has been much confusion and disagreement over the significance of the anarthrous predicate nominative, especially as it occurs in the Gospel of John. In the appendix of the New World Translation [1950 edition] the editors argue that [QEOS] in John 1:1c is indefinite on the basis that ‘our English translators insert the indefinite article “a” before the predicate noun at John 4:19; 4:24; 6:70; 9:24, 25; 10;33, 12:6.” (ibid, p. 1)

            I don’t own a copy of the 1950 edition of the NWT, so I can’t really speak to what may have appeared in the appendix. However, those who are familiar with the debate know that the Witnesses understand QEOS to be indefinite, not solely because the word is anarthrous, but also because the LOGOS is said to be “with God.” Since this particular contextual feature is precisely why Dixon felt compelled to avoid understanding QEOS at 1:1c to be definite, he can hardly complain when someone uses the same contextual feature to inform their own understanding of what John meant. Harner also objected to understanding QEOS definitely, and for the same reason but put differently, i.e. because “clause B should not be assimilated to clause A”. In other words, if the QEOS of clause c is definite, then this would make the LOGOS one and the same as the Father, which most believe (mistakenly, IMO) would necessarily result in Sabellianism.

            “And can you give me a handful of examples of instances in which pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nouns are clearly definite? (Unlike traditional Christian exegetes, I don’t really have a dog in this fight)”

            Sure. When I looked at the anarthrous predicate nouns in John’s Gospel, I found that slightly over 50% were indefinite nouns. Dixon considers them “qualitative”, but, again, his view and Harner’s have not received proper scrutiny by experts in language who are not motivated by theological commitments that compel them to secure one and only one allowable meaning. Below are the anarthrous predicate nouns that I consider indefinite, followed by those that I consider definite, though in some cases a bit tentatively. I focused on bounded (count) nouns because that’s what QEOS is. I excluded unbounded (mass/abstract) nouns from the lists.

            Indefinite bounded anarthrous predicate nominatives in John:

            1. John 4:19
            PROFHTHS EI SU
            a prophet you are

            2. John 6:70
            DIABOLOS ESTIN
            a devil is

            3. John 8:34
            DOULOS ESTIN
            a slave is

            4. John 8:44
            a manslayer was

            5. John 8:44
            YEUSTHS ESTIN
            a liar he is

            6. John 8:48
            SAMARITHS EI SU
            a Samaritan are you

            7. John 9:17
            PROFHTHS ESTIN
            a prophet he is

            8. John 9:24
            hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
            a sinner is

            9. John 9:25
            hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
            a sinner he is

            10. John 10:1 [see footnote to John 10:1]
            KLEPTHS ESTIN
            a thief is

            11. John 10:13
            MISQWTOS ESTIN
            a hired hand he is

            12. John 12:6
            KLEPTHS HN
            a thief he was

            13. John 18:35
            I a Jew am

            14. John 18:37a
            BASILEUS EI SU
            a king are you?

            15. John 18:37b
            BASILEUS EIMI
            a king I am

            Definite bounded anarthrous predicate nominatives in John:

            1. John 1:49
            You the King are of the Israel

            2. John 3:29:
            NUMFIOS ESTIN
            the bridegroom is

            3. John 5:10:
            SABBATON ESTIN
            the Sabbath is

            4. John 5:27:
            the Son of Man he is

            5. John 8:33:
            the seed of Abraham we are

            6. John 8:37:
            the seed of Abraham you are

            7. John 8:42:
            If God the Father of you was

            8. John 8:54:
            QEOS HMWN ESTIN
            the God of you is

            9. John 10:2:
            POIMHN ESTIN
            the shepherd is

            10. John 10:36:
            hUIOS TOU QEOU EIMI
            the Son of the God I am

            11. John 19:21:
            the King of the Jews I am

            Note: At John 10:1, notice that there’s no difference between how KLEPTHS (=thief) is handled, which occurs before the verb, and LHiSTHS (=robber) is handled, which occurs after the verb.

            ~Sean Garrigan

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 17, 2014

            None of these counter examples involves what I thought Colwell’s rule did — namely *two* substantives (that could be substantivized), the anarthrous predicate and the subject with the article, connected with a form of EIMI. I thought the rule was that in that case, the definite nature of the subject was transferred over, by implication, to the predicate.

          • Avatar
            Alethinon61  August 16, 2014

            As I promised in my previous post, here are a few examples of the flawed, even tortured reasoning offered by Brian J. Wright and Tim Ricchuiti in their JTS article, entilted “From ‘God’ (ΘΕΟΣ) to ‘God’ (ΝΟΥΤΕ): A New Discussion and Proposal Regarding John 1:1C and the Sahidic Coptic Version of the New Testament”.

            To begin, the reason the Sahidic Coptic Version is potentially important vis a vis a proper understanding of John 1:1c is because it is the first language into which the NT was translated that had both a definite and an indefinite article. The Coptic of John 1:1c reads (transliterated) “Auw neunoute pe pshaje”; an interlinear rendering would be, “And was a god is the word”; and a literal English translation is, “And the word was a god”. Though the use of the indefinite article is broader in Coptic than it is in English (it even appears before mass nouns), its presence before ΝΟUΤΕ in clause c would seem to suggest that the traditional translation (“the Word was God”) is not supported by this ancient text. When Witnesses drew attention to this folks at DTS apparently felt a need to do some damage control, and so the two aforementioned authors had their “research” published in JTS.

            Firstly, their approach was methodologically flawed in that they focused on the use of the article in Coptic in reference to ΝΟUΤΕ/QEOS. Their readers would have been better served if they had taken a broader approach and attempted to determine how the articles in Coptic are generally used when included in their translations of bounded nouns that originated in PNVS, SVPN, and other types of Greek clauses. I suspect that there’s a very good reason that they took such a narrow approach: Had they included other bounded nouns in their sampling then they would have reached very different results, and their apologetic would have fallen apart. The God of the Bible is the “one God, the Father” and so it is not surprising that most occurrences of QEOS refer to Him, and are typically definite.

            Secondly, as I mentioned, their reasoning at times is downright tortured. Here’s one example:

            “Our small sample size is itself a clue to the Copts’ use of the indefinite article, or their neglect of it altogether. Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%). Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to `the God of the Bible’ (20/25; 80%). It is no exaggeration to suggest, then, that the Coptic translators were disinclined to use anything other than the definite article when translating [QEOS]. If the Coptic translators were so reluctant to use the indefinite article with [NOUTE], our question must not be `what uniformly required the translators to use the indefinite article?’ but instead `what individual circumstances required the use of a disfavoured construction?'” (p. 502)

            Did you catch what their attempting to do? The “point” they seem desperate to massage from the data simply doesn’t follow. Let me restate the pertinent data:

            1. “Of the 25 instances of the AnNS [QEOS], the vast majority are reflected in the Sahidic Coptic version with the definite article (21/25; 84%).”

            2. “Of these, the vast majority are also in reference to the God of the Bible’ (20/25; 80%).”

            Wright and Ricchuiti are actually suggesting that the Coptic use of the definite article in contexts where NOUTE is a definite noun implies that the use of the indefinite article with NOUTE should be considered a “disfavored construction”! This is ridiculous. The only valid inference that we can make from the data is the rather obvious point that the Copts wouldn’t be inclined to render definite nouns with the indefinite article. But then, who would?

            Here’s another example of their apologetically sloppy thinking:

            “The same category applies to John 1:1c. This qualitative/descriptive understanding makes the best sense within John’s prologue. The Copts understood John to be saying that `theWord’ has the same qualities as `the God of the Bible’. On the other hand, if one disagrees with our arguments above, the only other viable interpretations given the other usages would suggest that the Copts understood `the Word’ to be either a `god of the pagans’ (cf. Acts 28:6) or some `usurper god’ (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4). Yet, this leaves one with much wider problems.” (ibid, p. 509).

            Contextually, it’s literally impossible to infer that the LOGOS is either a “god of the pagans” or a “usurper god”, regardless which translation one prefers, because he is used by God the Father to create all things, and has a special place at His bosom!

            This isn’t serious scholarship, but instead it’s a rather flaccid attempt to bring the Coptic of John 1:1c into harmony with orthodox Christology over against the NWT, which Wright and Ricchuiti oppose as part of their anti-“cult” apologetic. That we find this sort of thing coming from people associated with Dallas Theological Seminary is not particularly surprising. That Oxford allowed this to be published in their Journal without first requiring that the tortured reasoning be replaced with sound reasoning is unfortunate.

            ~Sean Garrigan

          • Avatar
            Alethinon61  August 18, 2014

            “None of these counter examples involves what I thought Colwell’s rule did — namely *two* substantives (that could be substantivized), the anarthrous predicate and the subject with the article, connected with a form of EIMI. I thought the rule was that in that case, the definite nature of the subject was transferred over, by implication, to the predicate.”

            I wasn’t sure what you meant, but then a friend suggested that you may be thinking of Sharp’s rule, which deals with situations where two nouns are joined by KAI (and) where the first noun has the article and the second does not, yet one person is in view. There are certain restrictions that apply, e.g. if one of the nouns is a proper name, then Sharp’s rule would not apply. Wallace describes this rule here:


            Unlike the rather tortured arguments offered for understanding QEOS to be “qualitative”, Wallace’s arguments for understanding 2 Peter 1:1 and Titus 2:13 to be applying the term QEOS to Christ are thoughtfully conceived and may be correct. Wallace deals with this subject in great depth in his book “Granville Sharp’s Canon and Its Kin: Semantics and Significance”, which is a first-rate piece of work. It’s available here:



          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 19, 2014

            Sorry — in my rush I got things mixed up. But I thought Metzger invoked Sharp’s rule?

          • Avatar
            Alethinon61  August 18, 2014

            I wanted to clarify that while I think Wallace’s work dealing with Sharp’s rule is first rate, that doesn’t mean I completely agree with him. For example, if memory serves, Wallace excludes translation Greek such as we find in the LXX, perhaps because of the exception or exceptions there (I know there’s at least one), though that wouldn’t be his stated reason. I find this move a bit arbitrary and therefore questionable. Also, I think that Eph. 5:5 is an exception to Sharp’s rule, yet it doesn’t have a proper name, but has Χριστοῦ καὶ Θεοῦ (Christ and God). I don’t recall how Wallace handles this text, but if one is to argue that this verse is an exception because Χριστοῦ functions here as quasi proper name, then I’m not sure why Σωτῆρος (savior) or Θεοῦ (God) couldn’t do so at Titus 2:13 as well.

            In the end, I think that any rule that is formulated for the sole purpose of shoring up belief in Christ’s deity has to be approached with a tentative, critical eye. I question the value of such approaches because, in the end, as you so eloquently demonstrate in your book, divine names and titles could be applied to agents of God like Moses, judges, kings, angels, etc, and so what do we really establish by demonstrating that such titles were also applied to Christ? I mentioned this question on my blog (http://kazesland.blogspot.com/), where I noted that:

            “…divine titles could be applied to agents of God in pretty much all forms of Jewish literature that existed at the time the New Testament was written. One often finds a strange disconnect in the writings of so many scholars and religious commentators in that while they often discuss the uncontroversial application of divine titles to agents of God in the Bible and in the literature of the period, they fail to recognize that it is precisely because Jesus is God’s agent — his living, breathing power-of-attorney — that we find divine titles applied to him. Once we recognize (a) the flexible use of such divine titles in the biblical period among monotheistic Jews, and (b) the contexts in which such applications were considered appropriate, then we come to realize something we might not have expected: Not only is it not surprising to find divine titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament, but it in light of his unique status as God’s agent par excellence, it would be downright shocking to find that such titles were not applied to him!”


          • Avatar
            Alethinon61  August 20, 2014

            “Sorry — in my rush I got things mixed up. But I thought Metzger invoked Sharp’s rule?”

            He actually invoked both Colwell’s rule and Sharp’s rule. In his article entitled “The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jesus Christ: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal” (Theology Today, 10.1, April, 1953), he invokes Colwell’s rule with respect to John 1:1c, and Sharp’s rule with respect to Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1.

            He invokes Colwell as follows:

            “Far more pernicious in this same verse is the rendering ‘…and the Word was a god,’…It must be stated quite frankly that, if the Jehovah’s Witnesses take this translation seriously, they are polytheists…As a matter of solid fact, however, such a rendering is a frightful mistranslation. It overlooks entirely an established rule of Greek grammar which necessitates the rendering, ‘…and the Word was God.’ Some years ago Dr. Ernest Cadmen Colwell of the University of Chicago pointed out in a study of the Greek definite article that, ‘A definite predicate nominative has the article when it follows the verb; it does not have the article when it precedes the verb…The opening verse of John’s Gospel contains one of the many passages where this rule suggests the translation of the predicate as a definite noun.”

            Notice Metzger’s rhetoric, i.e. “as a matter of solid fact”, “frightful mistranslation”, “necessitates the rendering, ‘…and the Word was God.'” Well, Metzger’s “solid fact” turned out to be based on a logical blunder, not a “fact” at all. Moreover, since over 50% of the pre-verbal anarthrous predicate nouns in John are clearly NOT definite, as the list I provided shows, Colwell’s rule isn’t even a very good fallacy. It was just a dumb mistake.

            Notice also Metzger’s assertion that if Jehovah’s Witnesses take the “a god” rendering seriously, they are “polytheists”. Does that mean that the OT Jews were polytheists when they called Moses, judges, kings, and angels “God” or “gods”? Were those who translated the NT into Coptic polytheists for rendering John 1:1c “a god”? This is the strange disconnect I mentioned in my previous post, i.e. pretty much everyone whose studies these issues knows that divine titles could be applied to agents of God without resulting in polytheism, yet apply divine titles to Jesus, God’s supreme agent, and you must either be a Trinitarian or you’re a polytheist? I don’t buy it.

            Moving on to Sharp’s rule, Metzger appeals to it on pages 78 and 79 as follows:

            “In still another crucial verse the New World Translation has garbled the meaning of the original so as to avoid referring to Jesus Christ as God. In Titus 2:13 it reads, ‘We wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior Christ Jesus.’ This rendering, by separating ‘the great God’ from ‘our Savior Christ Jesus,’ overlooks a principle of Greek grammar which was detected and formulated in a rule by Granville Sharp in 1798. This rule, in brief, is that when a copulative καὶ connects two nouns of the same case, if the article precedes the first noun and is not repeated before the second noun, the latter always refers to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun.”

            I don’t really have much of a complaint against Metzger here, except to say that his presentation is extremely one-sided. He fails to mention that some well respected, knowledgeable Trinitarians have themselves disagreed with applying Sharp’s rule to Titus 2:13, and some to 2 Peter 1:1. I don’t have a dogmatic opinion about this issue one way or the other, but I would point out that there are exceptions to Sharp’s rule, and so it’s actually an overstatement to say that “…the latter always refers to the same person that is expressed or described by the first noun.” In any case, Titus 2:13 may indeed refer to Jesus as “the great god”, or it may refer to the Father as “the great god”; I can’t be certain one way or the other, and I doubt that anyone else can either, dogmatic declarations such as Metzger makes notwithstanding.


  13. gmatthews
    gmatthews  July 29, 2014

    Just checking various blogs before bed and I see that Larry Hurtado posted yesterday that his formal review of your book was printed in Christian Century. I’ll read it tomorrow, but just curious if you’ve noted whether or not he modified his original review based on your comments to him (or maybe you haven’t read it yet, if not he links to an online version of his review here: http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2014-07/lord-and-god).

  14. Avatar
    Alethinon61  August 17, 2014

    I had said:

    “Dixon considers them “qualitative”, but, again, his view and Harner’s have not received proper scrutiny by experts in language who are not motivated by theological commitments that compel them to secure one and only one allowable meaning.”

    When I re-read this I realized that it could be misleading. I should have said this:

    “Dixon considers them “qualitative”, but, again, his view and Harner’s have not received proper scrutiny by experts in language who are not motivated by theological commitments that compel them to find reasons to avoid the two most natural readings of the text, i.e. ‘the Word was God’ (definite Θεός) and ‘the Word was a god’ (indefinite Θεός).”

    I’m not the only one who has observed that either a definite or an indefinite understanding are the two most natural ways of understanding the Greek in the light of the grammar used. J. Gwyn Griffiths noted essentially the same thing when he argued against rendering Θεός as “divine” (i.e. the “qualitative” proposal of the previous generation) in clause c:

    “Dr. Strachan’s statement is if special interest in that it seeks to give an explicit philological foundation to the translation ‘divine.’ Greek lexicons do not generally admit an adjectival meaning for Θεός…Dr. Strachan, however, thinks that the omission of the article before Θεός gives it the force of an adjective, whereas Dr. Temple derives the same force (or a force ‘not far from adjectival’) from the predicative use of the word. It may be suggested that neither of these statements is confirmed by general usage in classical or Hellenistic Greek. Nouns which shed their articles do not thereby become adjectives; nor is it easy to see how the predicative use of a noun, in which the omission of the article is normal, tends to give the noun adjectival force….Taken by itself, the sentence καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος could admittedly bear either of two meanings: (I) ‘and the Word was (the) God’ or (2) ‘and the Word was (a) God.’ Since, however, the expression πρὸς τὸν Θεόν has occurred immediately before this clause, the natural inference is that Θεὸς now bears the same meaning and reference, the article having disappeared according to regular custom.” (The Expository Times, Vol. 62, October 1950 — September 1951), p. 315

    I agree with Griffiths to the extent that there doesn’t really appear to be any reason to think that nouns that shed their articles change meaning, i.e. they don’t become “adjectival” (yesteryear’s preferred term) or “qualitative” (today’s preferred term). Nor — I would add — does there appear to be any reason to think that placing a noun before the verb changes its meaning to one of “qualitativeness”. I therefore agree that the two most natural readings are (a) “the Word was God” or (b) “the Word was a god”. Griffiths favored the former (=a) because of πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, whereas I favor the later (=b) for the same reason, and for others, e.g. the traditional rendering yields a paradox that I don’t think the author of John’s gospel could have said without experiencing congnative dissonance for himself and his readers. Historically speaking, Trinitarianism didn’t exist yet as a conceptual grid into which such a paradoxical statement could be placed to avoid cognitive dissonance, and so if his readers understood him to be saying that the LOGOS was both “God” and “with God”, then they either would have understood that Θεὸς was being used representationally, in harmony with the shaliah principle (meaning something like “the Word represented God”), or they would have required explication.

    I have an interesting question for you, Bart. Let’s assume, just for the sake of argument, that Harner, Dixon, and others are correct in arguing that Θεὸς is “qualitative” at John 1:1c. In his JBL article, Harner asserted that “In John 1:1 I think that the qualitative force of the predicate is so prominent that the noun cannot be regarded as definite.” (ibid, p. 75). In his DTS thesis, Dixon said that “Technically, any noun which is not definite is indefinite” (ibid, p. 9). Now, in which of the following translations does Θεὸς look like a “qualitative” noun that is “technically indefinite”?

    (a) The Word was God
    (b) The Word was a god

    Anyone who chooses “a” gets a booby prize;-)

  15. Avatar
    Alethinon61  August 30, 2014

    Good morning Bart,

    I was just wondering whether you’ve contemplated someday developing your argument that Jesus was considered an angel by at least some of the early Christians more fully? As you can see from the responses you’ve received, the fact that there’s an alternative interpretation of Gal. 4:14, however questionable it’s merits may be, is a stumbling block for many, causing them to offer anything from skepticism to rejection of your view based on this text. It seems that it’s going to take more work for that part of your argument (with which I agree, though perhaps with qualifications) to win over your peers.

    Perhaps the view can be further buttressed by way of a more inferential approach? I had offered this old gem on Larry Hurtado’s blog:

    “The Angel-Christology, as a peculiar combination of Christologies of exaltation and pre-existence, is the key to the whole situation of Paul’s Christology and it solves every difficulty…In what way should one conceive of a heavenly being, who was indeed like God, but was subordinate to Him, who could experience an elevation of rank and also surrender it again? Such a being could only be an angelic-being.” (F. Scheidweiler, found in Novation und die Engelchristologie, in Zeitschrift f. Kirchengeschichte, Bd. 66, Heft I/II, pp. 126-139, as quoted in The Formation of Christian Dogma, by Martin Werner, Harper & Brothers: New York, translated and abridged by S. G. F. Brandon, M.A. , D.D.), p. 130

    Hurtado responded by pointing out that Werner’s work was shown to be inadequate years ago, which is why it never gained a significant following. Well, perhaps Werner’s work was inadequate, or perhaps people were simply more satisfied with that which was offered by the opposition because that quarter offered what they were more inclined to accept. The point Hurtado offered against understanding Jesus to be an angel seems pretty weak to me:

    “The claim of Werner (and the works he cited, such Scheidweller) have long ago been shown to be simplistic. They fail to reckon with the evidence that Paul (and other NT texts) in fact draw sharp distinctions between the exalted Jesus and angels, even principal-angel figures. See my own discussion in my book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (1988; 1998).”

    As I said in response to this:

    To an Arian, sharp distinctions between Jesus and the angels are no more problematic than sharp distinctions between Jesus and his God and Father are to a Trinitarian. Logically speaking, Jesus could both be an angel and also superior to the angels just as many feel that he could be both God and also distinct from and subordinate to God. Presbyterian William Kinkade put it well during the Trinitarian/Unitarian debates of yesteryear when addressing the argument that Jesus couldn’t have been an angel in light of Hebrews, Ch 1. His comments are such that they can’t be abbreviated sufficiently for a blog post, but you can find them on page 155 of his “The Bible Doctrine of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit”, which can be read here:

    End Quote-Self

    While it may be true that Werner’s work was inadequate, that doesn’t necessarily mean that his thesis was incorrect. Some of his arguments may have simply needed fuller development. John Reumann notes something close to this in an article he wrote about Werner’s work:

    “The three areas of evidence examined above show how tenuous Werner’s material is in places. However, it is unfair to judge his argument on isolated passages without looking at the mass of documentation he provides; his total point of view must be considered, not just individual items. After any examination, lengthy or brief, one may agree with Turner’s earlier appraisal that Werner’s book is “brilliant, learned, and perverse.”[1] But certainly some of the suggestions presented are worthy of more attention than they have received thus far by scholars in the English-speaking world.” (Martin Werner and “Angel Christology”, The Lutheran Quarterly 8, [1956]), p. 327 and 358.

    You might be interested to know (though you may already) that John Ashton, former lecturer in New Testament Studies at Wolfson College, Oxford, has also indicated that Christ was an angel “tout court”. He offers the following:

    At this point I must acknowledge a debt to what is, in my opinion, one of the best but at the same time least regarded studies of John’s Gospel to have appeared in the last twenty years: Jan-Adolf Buhner’s thesis, Der Gesandte un sein Weg (1977). Buhner’s central interest is in tracing the link between the angel-motif and the prophet-motif in the tradition; and he goes so far as to say that ‘the fusion or blending (Verbingdung) of prophet and angel will prove to be the real key to answering the history-of-religions question concerning Johannine christology.’ What I wish to propose instead is that the key to any understanding of what lies behind the claim or charge of ditheism in the Gospel is what amounts to an angel christology (i)tout court(/i). This proposal, though related and indebted to the observations of other scholars, has never, to my knowledge, been put forward so directly. Shying away, for some four decades, from the rather extreme views of Martin Werner, Christian scholars have only recently begun once again to admit the importance of the ‘Christ as angel’ motif in the post-apostolic period, from the Shepherd of Hermas to Cyprian, from Justin to Origen. No one, apparently, has thought that it might shed light on the fierce christological debates in the Fourth Gospel.” (Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel), p. 75

    If you’ve never read Buhner’s book, Der Gesandte un sein Weg, then, based on the glowing testimony of others, and various English renderings of parts of Buhner’s work offered by John Ashton, I would highly recommend that you consider doing so. I own a copy and would be happy to send it to you if you can’t find one locally. You just have to promise to return it when you’re done:-) You might even consider temporarily assuming the role of S.G.F. Brandon, M.A., D.D., i.e. translate Buhner’s book into English so that those of us who can’t read German can fully benefit from his insights, which were apparently significant! Indeed, if you find the principle of agency discussed in a book about the Gospel of John, you are almost sure to find Buhner’s book listed as a reference.

    A. E. Harvey wrote an article in which he expresses gratitude to Buhner for shining the light on how Jesus’ relationship with God is developed in John’s Gospel in light of the agency paradigm:

    “This book [ibid] is the first major study to have been devoted to the Jewish law of agency in relation to the New Testament, and in my opinion it makes a conclusive case for understanding much of the language used of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel as drawn from juridical practice. Jesus is ‘sent’ by the Father under conditions which clearly imply his authorization; the sphere of his authorized activity on behalf of his Father is clearly defined (that is, those activities, such as creation and judgement, which are peculiarly God’s sphere); his activity conforms to the maxim that ‘a man’s agent is like himself’, and also to the (lesser known) maxim that an agent cannot work to his principal’s disadvantage; and he returns (as an agent must) to his Father-principal at the discharge of his agency. Again and again the Johannine Father-Son terminology is illumined by this agent-model; in particular, the ‘oneness’ predicated of the Father-Son relationship is convincingly (in my view) explained in terms of a functional identify of authority rather than of a personal or mystical relationship…” (Christ as Agent, found in The Glory of Christ in the New Testament: Studies in Christology in Memory of George Bradford Caird), p. 241

    I suspect that if one were to engage in a threefold approach (or primarily threefold), then one could probably develop a sophisticated argument in favor of an early angel Christology that wouldn’t be so easy for folks to reject. First, one could conduct a detailed study of the fine works that have shown us how the concept of agency illuminates Jesus’ relationship with his Father, his authoritative actions, and the reactions to them by his opponents. Second, one could study or study anew the various works dealing with angelomorphic Christology (e.g. Geischen’s book, which you’ve already read), and the original historical writings referenced in these works. Third, one could bring into the mix your findings supporting the proposition that the divine realm wasn’t conceived as it is today, but it had layers, and allowed divine titles and categories to be imputed to beings who weren’t God himself, but divine in some sense that was not considered inappropriate. It’s interesting to consider what possibilities might emerge if we set aside the perceived need to shore up orthodox Christology and then proceed to bring together these three primary observations to form a unified whole and rethink Christology anew in light of them, again:

    a) Christ is God’s agent, and much of what has formerly been interpreted in ontological categories lies quite comfortably in functional/agent-principal categories.

    b) Angelomorphic language is used of Christ, which could implicitly suggest that this is an appropriate category for interpreting his person and his work.

    c) As you demonstrated in your book, the sharp line that many theologians have drawn which seed God on one side and everything else on the other does not reflect the thought categories extant at the time of Jesus.

    About “b”, note what is provided on the Best Commentaries site as a description of Peter Carrell’s book “Jesus and the Angels”:

    “This study is an examination of the influence of angelology on the Christology of the Apocalypse of John. In the Apocalypse, Jesus appears in glorious form reminiscent of angels in Jewish and Christian literature. Dr. Carrell asks what significance this has for the Christology of the Apocalypse. He concludes that, although he has the form and function of an angel, Jesus is clearly portrayed as divine, and that through this portrayal, the Apocalypse both upholds monotheism while providing a means for Jesus to be presented in visible, glorious form to his Church.”

    So Carrell acknowledges that the language and symbolism used in Jewish writings to describe angels is used in the book of Revelation of Jesus Christ. Carrell notes that Jesus “has the form and function of an angel”, but then qualifies this by saying that “Jesus is clearly portrayed as divine” (presumably in contrast to angels). However, again, as you’ve shown in your book, the modern line between God and everything else does not perfectly reflect what was understood during the period during which the book of Revelation was written, and so even if Jesus is in fact presented as “divine” that doesn’t necessitate that he’s not an angelic being!

    What do you think? I’m a layperson, so I’m sure I left out important detail that would also have to be incorporated into the project, but it may be worth undertaking, no?

    ~Sean Garrigan

    [1] Patterns in Christian Truth, p. 20.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2014

      I can’t respond to long comments/questions like this. But I will say that I’m never impressed by scholars who tell me that a particular view was “shown to be inadequate long ago.” Either engage with the issues or not, but don’t rely on the fact that a number of scholars don’t like an argument! (I’m not speaking to you, of course)

      • Avatar
        Alethinon61  September 1, 2014

        Sorry about that, Bart. I’ll try to control my verbosity in the future, and shoot for the sort of concision that would make the late William Strunk, Jr. proud:-)

  16. Avatar
    Blackie  October 22, 2014

    Just wondering about honourific titles. I worked for 19 years as a caretaker at a synagogue. As a tribute the rabbi, donated a leaf of their “tree of life” plaque. I was shocked to see that he called me “The Angel of Temple Shalom”. I could not belief the epithet that he conferred on me but he stated angels walk amongst us and I deserve the tribute. So many members of the congregation to my surprized agreed. At my retirement dinner many hugged me and repeated this salutation. If a lowly figure like myself gets this overblown title. Christ is way beyond my scope deserves at least this and more exemplary tribute by his followers and admirers. Not meaning to be boastful but it was a precious gift to an unworthy person.. There are so many who deserve our attention and praise and should be recognized!

  17. Avatar
    ftbond  October 20, 2018

    It amazes me utterly that one can base a whole theological understanding – that Jesus was an angel – on a scripture (Gal 4:14) that may, in fact, not be talking about “angels” at all.

    It’s true that angels were “messengers of God”; it is NOT true that all messengers of God were angels.

    In Haggai 1:13, we see that Haggai is himself considered a “messenger of the Lord” (aggelos) – using exactly that terminology (in the Septuagint) – but, it is quite clear that Haggai is NOT a “supernatural being” of any sort.

    We see the same thing in Mal 2:7: “For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” Here, again, we see “messenger of the Lord” being applied to non-supernatural beings (priests).

    Paul is essentially referring to *himself* in Gal 4:14, and how *he* was received – and – as with Haggai, when the term “messenger of God” or “messenger of the Lord” is clearly used in reference to a non-supernatural being (such as Paul, saying how *HE* was received, or, as in reference to Haggai or priests), then there is no need whatsoever to translate the term “angel”, *as if* the term (in that given instance) is referring to anything other than a “messenger from God”, which might merely be a prophet or a preacher.

    The one question one might as is “was Jesus a ‘messenger of God'”? Yes, he was. Does that, by any necessity, imply that he was a supernatural being called *angel*? No, not at all.

    Paul says in 1 Corinth “do you not know that we are to judge angels?”. If Jesus were an “angel”, then believers would then be judging Christ. But, I hardly think this is the case.

    Now, if one wishes to go through a very long an convoluted process to show how Jesus *started out* as an “angel”, and then was “exalted above all”, then fine. OR – one could simply decide that this usage of “messenger of God”, which is in reference to Paul himself, simply means “messenger of God”, and is not at all a reference to a supernatural being.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 21, 2018

      The argument for Paul having an angelic christology, of course, is not rooted simply in this one verse. Instead, it makes sense of so many other things Paul says, especially, for example, in the Christ poem of Phil. 2:6-11.

      • Avatar
        ftbond  October 22, 2018

        If not for this one verse (in Gal), I doubt very seriously that a “Jesus was an angel” theory would have come about at all. At least, not from Paul’s writings.

        If one takes this Gal scripture out of the picture, one can hardly come up with “Jesus was an angel” from that reference in Phil. And, I suspect someone would be hard-put to find *any* other scripture (aside from this one Gal reference) in Paul’s writings that would “spark” an idea that Paul believed Jesus was an angel. I certainly can’t think of any .

        I figure that as much time as Paul spends in expressing his christological views (if that’s a correct term), it would have been entirely more consistent for him to have come out and said with clarity, “Jesus was an angel, and you need to understand this” if his christology was dependent on that view. But, you’re suggesting that Paul treats this momentous revelation of the very nature of Christ with a severe level of unimportance, sneaking it in to a statement saying “you guys were so nice to me, and greeted me like I was an angel, like Jesus himself”.

        And you’ll never once again find any declaration by Paul that “Jesus is an angel”. If his christology was utterly dependent on this idea or “revelation”, then he is utterly deficient in communicating the very core of his belief about the very nature of Christ.

        Me? I don’t buy into that. I tend to think Paul is not a terribly subtle person who is greatly concerned about writing his thoughts in an almost-terse, in-your-face-and-don’t-miss-this manner. I do not see Paul presenting profoundly important truths in a very cryptic and almost imperceptible fashion which might go by totally unnoticed until you’ve read his text a few hundred times. If Paul had wanted his readers to know Jesus was an angel, I do not at all think he would have hesitated to declare it quite plainly, and unmistakably.

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    BroTruth101  April 14, 2019

    Hello Dr Ehrman,
    I would like to say thank you for all the information you provided to all of us.
    My question is about John 1:18 The part of the verse is that says Jesus is the one and only Son Or the only begotten God. I have read your Book How Jesus became God and how Athanasius quotes Arius view of Christ ” Thus the only Son who was not, but existed at the paternal will Is only begotten God, and he is distinct from everything else. My question is which do you think is right. The one and only Son or the only begotten God.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2019

      If you want a full discussion, I cover all the ins and outs in my book The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

      • Avatar
        BroTruth101  April 15, 2019

        Thank you Dr Ehrman for your reply,
        I do have your book The Orthodox Corruption of Scriptures and it gave me the biggest headache reading it. LOL. I think I probably understood 40% of it and like most book that I don’t understand fully I will reread it, again and again till I do understand it. I don’t want to get into a discussion with you since I known you are doing your debate today on your blog today and you have other things going on in your life. My you have fun with your debate today and for the next 8 days. I do have a suggestion for the contradictions it would be Did Judas Iscariot eat the Passover meal with Jesus and the disciples? Matthew and Mark never said he left and Luke account says that after they eat Jesus said he would be betrayed. Only John says he left. Key point in Luke at the beginning of his book he said he wrote everything he knew in the correct order. I assume that would also be the Passover meal.

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