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Christ as an Angel in Paul

I continue here with another post about something that I learned about or changed my mind about while writing How Jesus Became God. I have to admit, that for many years I was puzzled by the apostle Paul – specifically his Christology. All the various things he said about Christ didn’t seem to add up to a coherent whole to me, even though I thought and thought and thought about it. But I finally found the piece that, when added to the puzzle, made it all fit together. I think now I can make sense of every Christological statement in Paul’s letters. This not because I myself finally figured it out. It’s because I finally read some discussions that actually made sense, and saw that they are almost certainly right. Here’s what I say about it in the book. It’s a result that I would have found very surprising just two years ago.

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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 have read Paul’s letter to the Galatians literally hundreds of times in both English and Greek. But the clear import of what Paul says in Galatians 4:14 simply never registered with me, until, frankly, a few months ago. In this verse Paul indicates that Christ was an angel. The reason it never registered with me is because the statement is a bit obscure, and I had always interpreted it in an alternative way. Thanks to the work of other scholars, I now see the error of my ways.

In the context of the verse Paul is reminding the Galatians of how they first received him when he was ill in their midst, and they helped restore him to health. This is what the verse in question says:

Even though my bodily condition was a test for you, you did not mock or despise me, but you received me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.

 

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The Disciples who Doubted the Resurrection

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Steefen  April 11, 2014

    Title of Response: “pre-fall Lucifer, Micha-El (St. Michael), Rapha-El, Gabri-El, and Christ)
    Bart Ehrman:
    “…you received me as *an* angel of God, as Jesus Christ [is *an* angel of God]..

    As *the* Angel of the Lord, Christ is a pre-existent being who is divine; he can be called God; and he is God’s manifestation on earth in human flesh.

    Steefen:
    Please elaborate on why you’re going from Jesus being one of God’s angels to Jesus being the angel of God. Jesus was greater than pre-fall Lucifer?!

    2. Jesus as a pre-existent being reminds one of John’s gospel. Would John agree with Paul?

    3. Then the angel at the empty tomb could have been Jesus Christ shapeshifting (from angel to human), yes?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 11, 2014

      You need to read my book. But no,k the angel at the tomb is not usually understood to be Christ, given what he says there.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  April 12, 2014

        Yes, Dr. Ehrman, I totally agree and look forward to reading it. HOLY JESUS YES: there’s an index in this book. I’m really looking forward to reading it now.

  2. Avatar
    prince  April 11, 2014

    Below is a link to a direct counter response to your view regarding Jesus as the Angel of God. You have mentioned here that context is the key to grasping the meaning of Paul’s statement.The blogger also agrees context is the key and elaborates why your perspective is unlikely.Can you please clarify your stance in response to the bloggers articulation that jesus was not a pre-existing Angel.

    http://dustinmartyr.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/review-of-bart-ehrmans-book-how-jesus-became-god-part-8-gal-414/

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 13, 2014

      I’m afraid this person is very much in minority when he argues that “angel” means “messenger” in the other passages that he cites. By far the more natural reading is “angel” (esp. 1 Cor. 11!!)

  3. Brad Billips
    Brad Billips  April 12, 2014

    If I may be a temporary narrator to this Blog, like the Holy Spirit in Acts, “bloggers, what Dr. Ehrman is saying is……READ THE BOOK!” Ha!

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 13, 2014

    Would it be correct to say that an exaltation Christology definitely came first…but then, there were two separate lines of development?

    The majority of early Christians continued to have an exaltation Christology for several decades, but found themselves moving the *time* of the exaltation back further and further: from the resurrection to Jesus’s baptism, then to his birth. When they moved the concept of his being “special” back to *before* his birth, it became an incarnation Christology. (Did all Christians who’d gone that route immediately embrace the view expressed in John?)

    A *minority* of early Christians – but an important minority, because it included Paul – had an incarnation Christology from a much earlier date. But they believed Jesus had been an angel before his human incarnation, and had been rewarded for the mission he’d carried out by being raised to a higher level of divinity than he’d enjoyed before.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 14, 2014

      I think it *is* a chronological development, but that it happened at different rates in different places for different people. The “incarnation” option was available at the same time as the “exaltation” option; and some people, like Paul, our first author, already has a combination of the two.

  5. Avatar
    FrankJay71  April 15, 2014

    This all reminds me, of what I believe is the Jehovah’s Witness’ view on Jesus, and on their translation of John 1:1. At work the other day we were discussing whether or not the phase “… and the Word was A god.” is a possibly correct translation of ” Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.”. Since we don’t know Greek we relied on Strong’s, but found that Strong’s doesn’t differentiate between θεόν and θεὸς. Should they be treated as distinct indicating “The God” and “a god”? Or is Strong’s essentially correct that they are essentially the same word?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 16, 2014

      Strong’s doesn’t differentiate between the two because they are exactly the same word, one in the nominative and the other in the accusative case. The issue of translation has to do with the fact that the final THEOS does not have an article in front of it, and so could either be God or a god. But since LOGOS does have the article, and is the subject, then the predicate nominative THEOS is probably to be understood as definite as well, that is, as God.h

  6. Avatar
    grahamhudgins  April 16, 2014

    Hi Dr. Ehrman. Is it possible that when Paul refers to Jesus as an angel of God in Gal. 4:14 that he understood Jesus to be the incarnation of the Old Testament “Angel of YHWH?” That would account for Paul having a high Christology and yet allow him to remain (perhaps?) monotheistic in the Jewish sense. Daniel Boyarin (in “The Jewish Gospels”) asserts that the concept of Jesus as the son of man yielded a more “divine” understanding among Jews of his day than would have the concept of Jesus as the son of God. He discusses the “son of man” passage in Daniel in support of his thesis and it would seem that Paul may have been trying to explain how this pre-existant divine being could be divine, receive worship of a sort and yet not be God. I suppose I have a hard time with the notion that Paul had a trinitarian (or bitarian) understanding of God, but it makes sense to me that he could have an understanding consistent with the second century BCE author of Daniel. What do you think?

    • Avatar
      grahamhudgins  April 16, 2014

      PS – The above is my first query – I am new to your blog. I have read “Forged,” “Lost Christianities,” “Jesus Interrupted,” and “Misquoting Jesus,” and have just ordered “How Jesus Became God.” I sincerely appreciate your scholarship and ability to make that scholarship available to all. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
      Graham Hudgins

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 17, 2014

      Yes, I argue in the book that for Paul Jesus was The Angel of the Lord, born as a human.

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