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Early Christology: How I Changed My Mind

It seems like every time I write a book, based on the research I do I change my mind about one thing or another that I’ve thought for a long time.  Some people (including some fellow scholars) think that’s a weakness or a problem.   I think of it as one of my charming personality traits.  🙂

OK, seriously, I think more scholars ought to be willing to change their minds — instead of being intransigent and thinking they are always right.  If intense research gives you new and different insights, that’s a *good* thing, not a problem.

I think about this a lot every time I’m in the midst of doing research for a book (such as now) (well, OK, such as almost always), and just now I was looking through old blog posts , and I ran across one (almost exactly five years ago today!) where I talk about a big change of mind involving the early understandings of Jesus as a divine being, in connection with the book I eventually published, How Jesus Became God.  Here is what I said.  (This new view is one that I now heartily endorse still!)


In these posts I have been arguing that there were two separate streams of early Christology (i.e. “understandings of Christ”).  The first Christologies were almost certainly based on the idea of “exaltation.” Christ, as a human being, came to be exalted to the right hand of God, where he was made to share in God’s status as a reward for his faithfulness. The earliest Christians – the earthly disciples themselves (or at least some of them: we have no way of knowing if they all “converted” to believe this about Jesus) –thought that this happened at Jesus’ resurrection, where God “made him” the Son of God (and thus the Lord, the messiah to come, the Son of Man, and so on). Later there were Christians who thought this exaltation occurred at his baptism, so that he was the Son of God for his entire ministry.

The other type of Christology came a bit later.  It was an “incarnation” Christology which indicated that Jesus was a pre-existent divine being – for example, an angel – who became a human being for the purpose of salvation.  This was the view of …

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Reading The Triumph of Christianity at Quail Ridge Books
Futuristic Interpretations of the Book of Revelation



  1. Lev
    Lev  March 3, 2018

    Hi Bart, may I ask an off topic question?

    I stumbled upon a text that makes the following claim: “According to less established tradition, the first bishop of Smyrna was Apelles (mentioned in Romans 16:10), followed by Strataes, a brother (or uncle) of Timothy, then Ariston, then Bucolus, the bishop under whom St. Polycarp was raised, first being made a deacon, then a presbyter, and finally, upon the death of Bucolus, bishop.”

    Sadly, the text does not cite a source, and despite rigorous internet searches, I can’t find where this tradition comes from. Would you be able to advise me how to locate the source of the early Smyrna Bishops, please? Even if I went to the British Library, I wouldn’t know where to begin!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2018

      I”m not sure where that comes from. Possibly Eusebius? I don’t really know. Church fathers like him often made up bishop lists when they didn’t have any solid informatoin (famously, e.g., for Alexandria, and also even Rome)

      • Lev
        Lev  March 4, 2018

        I found it on a Catholic blog (http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2014/06/the-bishops-of-history-and-the-catholic-faith-a-reply-to-brandon-addison/ – do a search for “less established tradition” if you want to see the text)

        You raise an interesting point about the lists of bishops. I had always assumed that the early churches kept registers of bishops (in much the same way churches do today).

        Tertullian (c200) seems to be familiar with these registers when he challenges heretical Christians to produce their own lists:

        “But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner…” https://st-takla.org/books/en/ecf/003/0030298.html

        What are the counter arguments against this record keeping? It seems (at face value) to be plausible, and we do find chroniclers such as Hegesippus (according to Lightfoot) who took an interest in these registers.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 5, 2018

          The classic study is Walter Bauer, Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, who shows by an analysis of all the sources that these lists were just made up centuries later by orthodox writers who wanted to show (like Tertullian) that there was a straight line of bishops all the way back to the apostles in all the major sees of Christianity (so that the current bishops represented what the apostles actually taught, as opposed to the “heretics”)

          • Lev
            Lev  March 5, 2018

            Many thanks Bart – that’s really useful. I may get the Bauer book, but it’s very expensive on Amazon.

            Are you aware of a more recent work that takes into account recent manuscript discoveries and research? I’ve just read a critical review of Bauer’s work which claims his thesis has been sharply challenged by more recent scholarship.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 6, 2018

            I have a discussion in the opening chapter of my book Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.

          • Lev
            Lev  March 6, 2018

            Aha! Now that’s a book I do have. I’ve re-read chapter 1 and footnote 16 is most helpful in pointing me toward responses to Bauer.

            However, your opening chapter focuses on the competing strands of Christianity in the 1st and 2nd century and how they used the text of scripture. I’m looking for evidence that the early lists of bishops were later inventions and would be interested to learn how this claim is established, especially for the Roman and Alexandrian lists.

            Would I need to get Bauer’s work to find the arguments and evidence for this claim, or is there a more recent (and more affordable) work that goes over this ground? I’m very grateful to you pointing me the right direction.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2018

            I don’t know of any books like that for general readers. Not the sort of thing most people are interested in!

          • Lev
            Lev  March 8, 2018

            I can usually cope with scholarly works, so long as they are in English. I do lose my way if a significant amount is in another language like Greek though – so if it’s a heavy emphasis on untranslated ancient texts I won’t get far.

            Do you have the evidence or arguments to hand? Was it another ancient writer who claims another list, or claims 1st and 2nd-century bishops were unknown?

            I can understand and appreciate if it’s too involved to get into here. I may try and find an English translation of Bauer’s work in the libraries here if that’s the best way to get to grips with it.

  2. Avatar
    Tony  March 3, 2018

    Bart, we could agree on the pre-existing Jesus as per the opening lines of John’s Gospel. Because you’ve boxed yourself in with the earthly Jesus notion the remainder of your argument becomes convoluted.

    Neither the Kenosis Hymn nor Paul ever refers to a Jesus as an earthly human. The term used is “in the likeness of human flesh”, as in Romans 8:3. Also, Jesus’ temporary human form is assumed by just prior to his sacrificial death, and not at his resurrection.

    As Paul describes his mystery religion: Jesus in the likeness of human form was handed over (delivered) to the ignorant satanic demons who mistakenly killed the Son of God – thereby causing Satan’s own demise and the release of human sin as introduced by Adam. This information was obtained from scripture and personal revelations.

    Short, to the point and supported by the evidence. You could always do a rewrite of Jesus before the Gospels. No?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2018

      Sorry, not sure what you’re talking about. Paul says that Jesus was born of a woman and Paul himself knows his brother James. You do realize that most readers simply don’t understand how you can claim what you do? (And btw, I’m not going to pursue this line of argument any further!!)

      • Avatar
        Tony  March 4, 2018

        We’ve had numerous exchanges on the born of a woman and brother issue. Perhaps you are confusing “not understanding” with “not liking”. Most readers take your interpretations at face value without ever reading the texts themselves. Being confronted by someone who has read the relevant texts seem to cause you great discomfort.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 5, 2018

          I think if you read through all my comments over the years, you’ll see that I’m quite open to other interpretations that can make sense of the same data — I bend on these all the time!

      • Avatar
        godspell  March 5, 2018

        I understand it very well, Bart.

        This is an article of faith for people like Tony. It’s part of their religion. As an atheist-leaning agnostic, you are committing heresy by refuting it.

        Fortunately, they don’t have a secular arm to punish you for your many sins.


    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  March 4, 2018

      “we could agree on the pre-existing Jesus as per the opening lines of John’s Gospel.” — No, we can agree that the author of John believed that Jesus pre-existed. You don’t find that idea anywhere else. People believed all kinds of things about Jesus.

      • Avatar
        Tony  March 5, 2018

        “John believed that Jesus pre-existed. You don’t find that idea anywhere else. ”

        But we do find that idea elsewhere.

        For one, in the “Christ-poem” of Philippians 2 as described in the post above. Also, the later followers of Paul’s religion strongly believed in a pre-existing Jesus. Colossians 1:15-17:

        “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

        • Avatar
          godspell  March 6, 2018

          “And I met his brother in Jerusalem. Nice guy.”

          When you edit out all the stuff you don’t like, or willfully misunderstand it, how are you any different from fundamentalists?

        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  March 8, 2018

          Philippians 2 doesn’t say that. There was a long-standing and heated argument about what the Colossians 1 text meant. Arius believed that there was a time when Christ was not. The debate was ‘settled’ by fiat at the first Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. but the idea didn’t die quickly.

          Probably no one thought of it until the Johannine community incorporated Platonic ideal forms and the Greek philosophical concept of logos.

        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  April 27, 2018

          Those support the idea that Jesus existed at the beginning of creation (of our universe), or before that creation. Pre-existence more typically refers to the idea of eternality. Was there a time when Jesus was not? Arius said yes. The Council of Nicaea said no.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 5, 2018

      Tony, allow me to give you a nickel’s worth of free advice. Here are three signs that you may have been taken in by a conspiracy theory.

      1. A conspiracy theory raises more questions than it answers. If an historical Jesus did not, in fact, exist, then we’re left having to answer a myriad more questions. And those questions are easily answered if we assume Jesus was a real, historical person. For example, why would it be necessary to have Pilate, of all people, execute Jesus? What’s so significant about Pilate that the story had to include him, specifically? If Jesus the man never existed, then that would be a tough question to answer. We would have to reconstruct some symbolic or theological explanation for Pilate’s role. But if Jesus was an actual, historical person, who was actually executed by Pilate, simply due to the process of random, worldly chance, then the question disappears. There are so many examples like this that one has to be willfully blind not to see them.

      2. Conspiracy theories tend to be more — if not vastly more — logistically complex and harebrained than the more obvious explanation. An example in recent history is the so-called 9/11 Truthers who, for some reason, thought it was more logistically realistic that thousands of government employees coordinated a complex attack on their own country, than the much simpler and obvious explanation that jets were hijacked by a couple dozen men and crashed into buildings. The Jesus myth has a similar logistical problem. We have to assume that several, if not dozens, of men conspired to found a movement on a man that they simply made up out of whole cloth. This is assuming you don’t think that the twelve disciples were also a fiction, at which point the conspiracy theory becomes even more complicated and logistically questionable.

      3. No amount of evidence to the contrary appears to satisfy a conspiracy theorist. One of the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory is that it’s rife with confirmation bias, accepting only the evidence that seems to support the theory and rejecting any evidence that questions or contradicts it. For example, instead of taking Paul’s claim that Jesus was “born of a woman” as obvious, unequivocal, unambiguous evidence that Paul actually believed Jesus was at some point a flesh and blood man who walked the earth, rather, you construct a convoluted rationale that allows you to deny it. From that point, I’m afraid, you’re choosing to be willfully ignorant and dismissive. At that point, there’s no better descriptor for you than “conspiracy theorist”.

      • Avatar
        Tony  March 6, 2018

        As a fawning admirer and defender of all things Ehrman (Ehrmanism?) I’m not surprised that you continue to take issue with a more rational approach to the historicity of Jesus. Your “conspiracy theory” straw man argument has a nice ring to it, but your argument falls more into the 80/20 rule, or, for Jesus historicists, more a 99/1 rule. That is, ignore the 99% evidence that says the Pauline Jesus was celestial and focus with gusto on the 1% that might indicate historicity. Inevitably, the born of a woman and brothers of the lord will come up as convenient straws to grasp.

        Although probably a waste of time, I’ll try to summarize a few facts on the born of a woman issue. Try to read some NT text – you may find it interesting.

        Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law”.

        The Greek word that Paul uses (genomai) does not mean biological birth. Genomai means “becoming” or “made”. Paul uses that word a lot, for example, when he writes about Adam being made as in 1 Cor 15:45, or when he describes our future resurrected bodies made by God in 1 Cor 15:37. When Paul writes about a biological birth he uses the Greek word gennao as in Rom 9:11 and Gal 4:23,29 (but not in 4.4!).

        Besides the strangely redundant, generic and unnamed “woman” Paul never indicates he knows anything about a family, birth location, parents names etc.

        So, who is this generic woman? Paul clarifies that in Gal 4:21-31. The women are allegorical covenants and not literal women ! “Under the law” refers to Hagar and Jerusalem. Sarah refers the Jerusalem above and she is our mother. Jesus was made under the law and slavery, but through his obedient sacrifice bought freedom and the promise for all.

        There you go talmoore. That far left deep state manipulator Paul gave you another conspiracy theory to chew on.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2018

          You may want to do some work on the meaning of ginomai.

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  March 9, 2018

          Ehrmanism—noun. 1. the worship of Ehrman or the powers of evil. (See above disc., Tony & Talmoore.)
          [er’man-iz-uh m]

          2. a travesty of Christian rites in which Ehrman is worshiped.

          3. diabolical disposition, behavior, or activity; i.e., taking the historical Jesus position or thinking there are inaccuracies within the New Testament.

          Related form(s). noun, Ehrmanist, Ehrmanite.
          Origin of Ehrmanism: First recorded when Misquoting Jesus was released in 2005.

          Source: http://www.dictionary.com. “satanism”. Accessed 2018 March 8.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 9, 2018


          • Avatar
            Tony  March 9, 2018


          • Avatar
            Mohammed Musa  March 11, 2018

            Iam an Ehrmanite, (follower of Prof. Ehrman)

  3. Avatar
    Celsus  March 3, 2018

    I noticed in your recent debate with Licona his arguments that the synoptics present Jesus doing things “that only God could do” like Jesus forgiving sins, is evidence that the earliest Christians believed he was God. Licona should check the passage again. Mark has Jesus *disagree* with them in that only God can forgive sins. He says “the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins” meaning Jesus was God’s chosen subordinate who was granted this power. So much for proclaiming this is evidence that they thought Jesus was God when in fact it presents precisely the opposite idea!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2018

      Interesting point!

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  March 4, 2018

      Isaiah (1:18) declared that Israel’s sins would be forgiven if they repented. Nothing remarkable about that. It was part of the covenant. If Israel disobeyed and was punished, they could repent (resume obedience), and the punishment would stop and the blessings resume.

      The priests had to convince people of that, or their religion would die out at the first conquering by a foreign power. Their prophetic worldview said you were conquered because you disobeyed. Without repentance and forgiveness, the story would end there.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 5, 2018

      It also doesn’t help that the concept of “sin” that folks like Licona use tends to be more Christian than Jewish. For Jews, a sin is something like a stain or a blemish that is readily erased by some ritual practice. In Temple times, the ritual would have included a sacrifice before the priests. In modern times, it’s done via Yom Kippur observance. At no point is sin regarded as something other than a transgression of the law that must be expiated.

      For Christians, however, sin has an almost metaphysical reality. Sin has been reified into something like an object that we are born with, a burden that we carry around with us (cf. Bunyan’s Christian), a permanent condition of which we must rid ourselves.

      Let me tell you, this is NOT the Jewish notion of “sin”. The Jewish notion of sin is, by comparison, relatively less malignant. If we compare them to, for example, regular human diseases, Jewish “sin” is like a cold or flu, while Christian “sin” is like HIV. One will make you miserable for a few days. The other will make you miserable forever. If I were a betting man, I would bet Jesus’ notion of sin was closer to the Jewish one than the modern Christian one.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  March 10, 2018

        talmoore or bart
        I dont believe I’d agree that Jesus saw ‘sin’ more akin to common cold as opposed to HIV
        Jesus thought that if i looked on a woman with lust I have committed adultry in my heart and if i call my brother a fool I am liable for hell-fire. if we equate these with ‘sin’ then ‘sin’ is indeed a very serious issue.
        And Paul a Jewish contemporary of Jesus, also equated ‘sin’ with ‘death’ see his letter to romans (not just catching a cold).

        Bart, in regards to your book on the after’life’.
        if you interpret EVERY SINGLE reference made by Jesus and Paul to ‘death’ as ‘physical death’ then I think you will be making a serious error. if you accept that Paul and Jesus on occasion used ‘death’ (and ‘life’) symbolically, then you need to investigate what the words ‘life’ and ‘death’ meant to them in those instances. Actually I think in ‘The Apocalyptic Prophet’ you recognized that in Jesus ministry ‘physical life’ was portrayed as a matter of little consequence. if thats the case why equate the references in his ministry to eternal life to eternal physical life on earth. Rather considering the rest of his ministry ‘life’ to Jesus more likely meant something like ‘being loved by God’ and not just a span physical life regardless of the duration. [death then when not used literally meaning being distant or unloved by God]

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  March 3, 2018

    So many of these issues seem to hinge on the very point you’re making here, namely that the ancients didn’t think the way we do. Yet the very origins of Christian belief seem to spring out of and fundamentally partake of a way of thinking that we no longer share. There are words and ideas that cannot be translated precisely from one language to another; can a modern believer ever really enter into what is in many ways an alien way of thinking?

    I’m an ex-believer like you but I’m surrounded by believers who don’t seem to be troubled by any of this but it seems to me to be a fairly profound philosophical problem. You probably spend a a lot of time correcting your student’s mistaken assumptions about the past. You see this as an issue. Do you know of any Christian thinkers who are addressing it?


    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2018

      I think all serious scholars deal with this issue.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  March 8, 2018

      It’s not a translation issue. It’s an idea representation / encapsulation issue. Logos was a well-developed idea of Greek philosophy. Everyone in the ANE knew what it meant. Translating it as ‘word’ completely hides that idea. It would have been better to leave the word untranslated. That way, a reader would immediately recognize that he didn’t know what it meant, and would have to look it up.

  5. Avatar
    dragonfly  March 3, 2018

    If changing your mind after doing research is a weakness, at what stage in their career did the “strong” scholar reach the point of knowing everything?

  6. Avatar
    rburos  March 3, 2018

    Just about finished with Triumph, and have added it to HJBG as my two favorites of yours. It’s kind of my Luke-Acts of Bart Ehrman, if you will. There’s no way for me to thank you enough, but let me at least make a feeble attempt–thank you.

  7. Avatar
    Silver  March 4, 2018

    Re Phil 2:5-7 do you think it is justifiable to translate ´ μορφη θεου ´ as ‘in the form of [the] God’ (v6) when ´ μορφην δολου ´ is rendered as ‘ in the form of a slave’? (v7) please?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2018

      Yes, it almost certainly means “in the form of God.”

  8. Avatar
    mikekostura  March 4, 2018

    Great post, Dr. E! The Phil. 2 passage still bugs me because it feels too “high” a christology to be so early. I can see the transitional nature that you point out.
    Just to play devil’s advocate (or devil’s opponent =)), could it be argued that God was just giving Jesus *back* his original glory? What clues do we have that the exalted glory exceeds the former? (Btw, I am an agnostic ex-C like you, even though this post might sound like a Christian being sly!)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 5, 2018

      Yes, it could be argued that way. One reason for thinking that it’s not that is that when Paul says that at his exaltation God “exalted” Jesus he does not simply say “exalted” but “hyper-exalted” — which seems to imply that he was made even *more* exalted than before.

  9. cheito
    cheito  March 5, 2018

    DR Ehrman:

    Your comment:
    But by the time we get to the Gospel of John, we have an incarnation theology pure and simple, where there is no higher exaltation. How *could* there be a higher exaltation? Before the Word became flesh (i.e., before it was incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ), it was *already* “God” as much as God was God.

    My Comment:

    I think, in Philippians, Paul is relating his understanding, about who Jesus is and was before He, Jesus, incarnated.

    I also think, John is saying basically, similar things about who Jesus is and was, as Paul is relating to us in his letters. That is, that God the Father, did, highly exalt Christ ‘FURTHER’, after Christ humbled Himself to the point of dying on the cross.

    God gave Jesus a mission to accomplish and Jesus didn’t fail God. I think this is true, because Jesus could have chosen to disobeyed God and not go to the cross. Jesus was not forced to die on the cross. What Jesus did for God and for all humanity, Jesus did out of love and respect and completely from his own free will.

    In the Gospel of John, Jesus says as much: that just as the father had commanded him to do, so he had done. (John 14:31-but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go from here.) (John 15:10-“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. )

    Christ already existed in the form of God before He incarnated, and God had created all things through Him, so Jesus was already an exalted being, Paul says the same thing in a different way. Paul points out that Jesus existed in the form of God…

    Jesus, out of obedience to God’s will, took the form of a man, to fulfill one goal of God’s multifaceted purpose, that is, that Jesus would become the king of Israel and of all humanity, and also, that Jesus would be second to none in power and authority, except to the Father, whom, Jesus himself testifies, according to the Gospel of John, that the FATHER is greater in power and authority than all other authority heads anywhere and everywhere and that no one has the power to thwart God’s plan.

    According to the authority and will of God the Father, Jesus is now above ALL other powers and authorities, here on earth and also in the heavenly realms. This was accomplished after his resurrection! Not before.

    According to the Gospel of John, and also according to Paul, God has delegated His own authority to his son Jesus, so that now, Jesus represents fully, God’s nature, power, and authority.

    Everyone, everywhere, in All realms, has to, now, by the will of God, because of what Jesus did, (i.e., submit to dying on a cross and then rising from the dead) bend their knee to Jesus.

    I believe, Paul and John agree that Jesus received this honor and authority from God, after his incarnation, death and resurrection.

    Before His incarnation, Jesus was already an exalted being, but after His incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection, Jesus was officially declared by God Himself, sovereign ruler over all.

    Jesus has the same power and authority as God the father, so that Jesus can even give life to whomever He wishes, whether dead or alive! All this and more is taught by the Gospel of John.

    God handed over all the persons on earth that belonged to him, to Jesus his chosen King.
    In John 17: Jesus says as much.

    My point is, that the Gospel of John teaches that Jesus NOW has even more authority and clout than before His incarnation.


    John 5:21“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. 22“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, 23-in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

    John 5:26“For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; 27-and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.


  10. webo112
    webo112  March 5, 2018


    In Corn 5:7, Paul states “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”
    This is indicative that fairly early in Christianity, at least in Paul’s view, Jesus was regarded as a sacrificial lamb – similar to John’s view (but much earlier in written history).
    As you know, It is interesting that this view is not in the synoptics, and only in Gosple of John.

    Therefore, can this be used (has it been used?) as [speculative evidence or a clue] that Paul *perhaps* had NO influence on the actual authorship of the synoptics.
    …as one may think this “catchy” view would have made it into the sypnotics if Paul influenced the early gospel authors, particular Mark; as in some circles this has been proposed.

    Can it be argued that Jesus’s role as a sacrificial lamb had independent sources? Paul and John?

    Thank you,

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2018

      I think that what this shows is that it was widely known that Jesus was executed at the time of the Passover.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  March 8, 2018

      That’s a minor point for Paul. His main point in that chapter is an analogy between sin and leaven. Passover was the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Early Christians (especially Gentile Christians, the vast majority) didn’t think of Jesus as the Passover lamb. They thought of him as the universal sacrifice. Not just the one animal for that one particular sacrifice of that one particular feast of one particular religion.

      Most likely no one ‘knew’ that Jesus was crucified at Passover. But it did become a tradition. Who knows, that tradition might have even started with this, Paul’s off-handed comment making an analogy with the Passover lamb, just because he was talking about leaven. Rumors have started with less.

      Only in 1 Corinthians 5:7 does Paul (or anyone else) express the idea of Jesus as a Passover lamb in an epistle. Even the synoptic gospels don’t do that. They just use the Passover season as a plausible time for a riot. It’s also a plausible way to get both Jesus and Pilate into Jerusalem, where the Jewish rulers were.

  11. Avatar
    Hildore  March 7, 2018

    Could the author of the second epistle of Peter be putting forward this idea when he wrote: “That you might be partakers of the divine nature” in chapter 1 and verse 4?

  12. Avatar
    Duke12  March 7, 2018

    Interesting! Orthodox Christian theology (the dumbed down cliff notes of the cliff notes version) distinguishes between God’s unknowable essence and his knowable energies, the latter of which any human can partake of in their own quest to also become God(like). Makes me wonder if their otherwise very Nicene theology still contains “ancient DNA fragments” of the earlier view.
    Regardless, my appreciation on changing your views based on careful research. I appreciate evidence based reasoning more and more each year.

  13. Avatar
    FluminenseFC82  March 13, 2018

    So this is an “in-between” Christology that developed out of the exaltation views: he wasn’t son of God just at the resurrection, or just at the baptism, but for his entire life.


    That is what we who are heirs of Nicea have come to think. And it’s not what ancient Jews and pagans thought, at all.

    This was a very good read Dr. Ehrman. As a deconvert myself (in 1990) I wrestled a lot with God Incarnate and the concept at birth, but as our Reformed Theological Seminary (Clinton, MS) taught us, even prior to birth: the Alpha and Omega. Jesus was always God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from start to finish. For me, there was one MAJOR problem with this.

    Why on God’s green Earth would the Supreme Divine waste 17-years (the Missing Years) of essentially nothingness toward this Cosmically phenomenal mission of restoration to the entire planet, and THEN no one in Syria-Palaestina CRAVING the Jewish Messiah hears, says, or does NOTHING to put their badly needed Messiah back on track toward the Kingdom of God! Why was everyone suddenly apathetic and happy to be under Roman rule and oppression for ANOTHER 17-YEARS!!!!?

    That doesn’t sound like an Incarnate God arrived to save His people, His kingdom on Earth, or the world and no one is interested in the least that God’s one-and-only Son has vanished! WTH? Sounds much more like 4th – 5th century CE Hellenistic-Roman Apotheosis to me.

    What are your thoughts Dr. Ehrman? Thank you Sir.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      No thoughts really — I can see your point! But since you were educated in those realms, I think you can figure out how an intelligent and informed believer would respond as well.

      • Avatar
        FluminenseFC82  March 13, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman, you are so right. Just my initial embracing of WHO the Christ was — from an “unprecedented” birth that began the “supposed” 50-400(?) fulfilled Messianic prophecies, to a literal Cosmic celestial event and Oriental/Persian Kings coming from some 500-miles from Babylonia, in which millions of stargazers HAD to have seen — followed by his unprecedented astonishment to the Rabbis in the Temple at age 12, I just could NOT fathom God’s one-and-only Son come to “save” the world, Gentiles included, could simply VANISH with no desparation by the Jews to find him!!! I personally think any (Hebrew?) Law Enforcement/Investigator worth their weight in gold would do everything imaginable to find that much anticipated Messiah boy/teenager and restore Israel as an independent kingdom! Why all the rampant apathy for 17-years!?

        That was the very beginning of my deconversion and fine-tooth scrutiny of the New Testament. I couldn’t stop asking myself… “Maybe this Jesus Christ fellow ISN’T what the Gospel authors and Paul of Tarsus make him out to be!” It was a very profound epiphany for me.

        Thank you so much Dr. Ehrman for your further thoughts. I really appreciate Sir.

  14. Avatar
    ftbond  June 28, 2018

    iI would argue that there is another area in which I believe many historians are totally blinded: they think that because the *understanding* of “the nature of Christ” was developmental, that it must therefore support the notion that “Jesus the God-Man”, (or whatever) is simply a made-up concept that developed over years, and, therefore, not only is the “understanding” of “who Jesus is”, but the *story itself* is “suspect”.

    I would argue that quite the opposite is true: If such developmental thought did *not* take place, then that would indicate that the story could well have been contrived to fit neatly into an already-existent paradigm; a complete fabrication, crafted to satisfy an expectation.

    But, the story of Jesus was anything but that.

    I would offer this, to clarify my point: Let’s say that today, there were a baby born in a hospital here in the US, and the doctor and nurses are all in attendance and the entire event was being video’ed by the proud father. When the baby emerges from the womb, and the childs life begins, the doctor lays the child on Mom’s breast. And, all are watching, all is being video’ed, and – then – the baby begins to “glow” somehow, and then completely disappears.

    Not only would Science be spending the next umpteen decades trying to understand what had happened, but ordinary people would be trying to figure out “what that was all about”. Who *was* that child? Where did he go? *How* did he go? Who was the Mom? Does this mean there’s another dimension? A “supernatural”? Was this some kind of “sign” of something? Does this mean anything for *me*?

    My point: *Of course* the “understanding” would be developmental. But, that “developmental understanding” would not have the slightest bearing on whether the thing occurred or not.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 29, 2018

      I’m not familiar with too many historians who make that argument, but I suppose some do.

  15. Avatar
    Brand3000  December 23, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    There are several examples of appearances to the 11 per these examples, do you still think that there was never a time when at least 2 people had a vision of him at once?
    Jn 20:19-29, Matt. 28:16-17, Luke 24, Acts 1:3–12

  16. Avatar
    Brand3000  December 24, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    (Follow-up on last answer) What group (2 or more) vision do you think was most likely?

  17. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 9, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    You said that not all the apostles readily believed in the resurrection of Jesus, and that the event itself was not anticipated. So would you agree that these visions were not hallucinations via expectation?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 11, 2019

      Do you mean that the visions were probably not inspired by the hope/idea that he *would* be raised? Yes, I certainly agree with that.

  18. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 11, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:

    I was looking over some data on visual hallucinations, do you agree that none of these fit all of those who Jesus appeared to? :

    Expectation: NO (we agreed on this one i.e. the disciples were not expecting to see Jesus resurrected. Some doubted even after Jesus appeared, there were also skeptics like Paul and James). In at least some of the cases with the sightings of the Virgin Mary expectation seems to have played a considerable role.
    Grief: Wouldn’t Explain Paul (some try to explain his case away with sundry ad hoc theories, but the prima facie evidence from his own letters suggests that in the early days of Christianity, he believed was perfectly justified per his opposing actions)
    Psychosis: NO
    Drugs: NO
    Delirium: NO
    Tumors: NO
    Dementia: NO
    Seizures: NO
    Group Hallucinations?: Whether we notice them in 1 Cor. 15, or note the multiple attestation for an appearance to the 11 in the Gospels, there is reason to believe that there were one or more group experiences of the risen Jesus, and hallucinations are widely known to be private experiences. Plus, how could ‘Group hallucination theory’ ever be falsified? At that point anything in history witnessed by many could just be rejected as a “group hallucination.” Additionally, the sightings were at different times, different places, to different people, and to one or more groups. Plus, they were so convinced, several of them put their lives on the line for it, not typical of a ‘regular’ hallucination episode and aftermath. i.e. Dale Allison has commented “Typical encounters with the recently deceased [do not] lead to the founding of a new religion.”

    • Bart
      Bart  January 13, 2019

      We have no way of knowing about such things as psychosis, delerium, dementia, or seizures, etc. If you want my view about it all, I devote a lengthy discussion to it in How Jesus Became God.

  19. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 20, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman:
    Is this a good general outline of historical value of documents
    • Undisputed letters by Paul
    • The Gospels
    Then would it be more worth it to go to the letters such as Ignatius, who is still an early first hand source, rather than turn to the disputed letters of Paul and the following: Acts Hebrews · James 1 Peter · 2 Peter 1 John · 2 John · 3 John Jude Revelation?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 21, 2019

      It depends completely on what historical goals you’re trying to reach — difference sources are more valuable than others for knowing different kinds of historical information.

  20. Avatar
    Brand3000  January 21, 2019

    Ignatius to the Ephesians:

    3:10 “You are the passage-way of those that are killed for God; the companions of Paul in the mysteries of the Gospel; the holy, the martyr, the deservedly most happy Paul, at whose feet may I be found when I shall have attained to God; who throughout all his epistle, makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.”

    With this passage along with 1 Clem. Do we have multiple attestation for Paul’s martyrdom?
    Both documents would fit within the time frame, but you still allow writings prior to 130 CE as written within an acceptable time, correct?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2019

      I think you mean Ignatius to the Ephesians 12. And yes, this *may* be a reference to martyrdom, although it could also be a reference to him “having born his testimony/witness” without meaning “to the death”

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