This will be my final post on the debate I had in New Orleans with Michael Bird on “How Did Jesus Become God” a couple of weeks ago. As I indicated in my previous post, it appears where we disagree in particular is with how the resurrection affected the disciples’ understanding of Jesus. My view is that when they came to think Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciples thought that this entailed his being exalted up to heaven. And *that* is why thy started calling Jesus “God,” because in ancient thinking – as documented widely in both pagan and Jewish circles – it was believed that a mortal being who was taken up to heaven was made immortal, and was in fact, considered then to become a God.
That is the belief attested for such figures as Romulus in Roman circles and Enoch in Jewish circles. And it is, I’ve contended, how the earliest Christians understood Jesus. Only as they thought about it more did they start saying even more exalted things about him – eventually saying not that he was a mortal who had been made immortal or a human who had been made divine, but that he had been a divine being *before* he was a human being, that is, that he had pre-existed his appearance in this world and that he was a God come to earth, not an earthly being taken up to be a God. In other words, in the terms I use in my book, the early Christians shifted from an “exaltation” Christology (where Christ was exalted to the level of divinity) to an “incarnation” Christology (where Christ was a God who became a fleshly human being, temporarily).
This is where Michael disagrees with me. I should say again that in our debate he…
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Michael Bird’s most popular books are The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians, and Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message.