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Exaltation Christology in the Speeches in Acts

In this post I return to the topic of early Christology. To review what I’ve covered so far: I have indicated that early on in the Christian tradition there were two types of Christology, one of which I have called “exaltation” Christology (I have not mentioned yet the other type); this is sometimes called a “low” Christology or a Christology from below. This is the view that Jesus started out as a human, nothing more, but came to be exalted by God to become his Son, the Lord. This view, I have argued, can be found in fragments of creeds and confessions that were later quoted by authors of the New Testament, so that in terms of raw chronology, they were formulated well *before* the New Testament was written. And I isolated Romans 1:3-4 as just one such case, where Paul quotes a confession that indicates that whereas Jesus was the human messiah from David’s seed, he became the “son of God in power” at the resurrection. This is not exactly Paul’s own view, but it’s close enough that he can quote the confession. So much for review.

The idea that at the resurrection God exalted Jesus to a new, divine status can be found in other pre-literary fragments quoted by New Testament authors. That is especially the case with the book of Acts. Scholars have long realized that the speeches in Acts are not the speeches that the apostles themselves would have delivered. Whatever Peter may actually have said on the Day of Pentecost (as in Acts 2), no one was taking notes so that Luke would be able to reconstruct it accurately 50 years later when he wrote his account. Where did the speech come from then? Luke made it up.

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Pushing Back the Exaltation
Exaltation Christology in an Early Creed



  1. Avatar
    z8000783  February 12, 2013

    “Again, this kind of exaltation Christology, embedded in these fragments quoted in the speeches do not coincide completely with Luke’s own theology (since he thinks Jesus was the Lord, the Christ, the Son of God during his life). The fact that he quotes them shows that they are older than his writing. ”

    One would expect on that basis, that an astute theologian would not include them, wouldn’t you?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 13, 2013

      Well, an astute modern theologian who was uncomfortable with paradox would! But it’s a good point and I’ll show why it probably happened in a later post.

  2. Avatar
    JoeWallack  February 12, 2013

    “Luke was a kind of Christian historian, and it shouldn’t be expected that he would operate any differently from other historians of the ancient world”

    “Luke” used “Mark” as a base and while “Mark’s” primary purpose was to discredit supposed historical witness, “Luke’s” was to credit. The only comParable ancient was “Matthew”. As Hans said in the classic Die Hard when he was first told about “John” (McClain) who was described as an ancient security guard, and in relation to your claim that “Luke” was any type of historian, “No, this is something else”.


  3. Avatar
    dewdds  February 12, 2013

    It’s funny how many times I’ve read those passages and completely missed the early Christology message imbedded within.

    When did the early church fathers start railing against this interpretation of Christianity?

  4. Avatar
    hwl  February 16, 2013

    Why is it implausible that Peter’s speech In Acts 2 and Pauls’ speech in Acts 13 originate from the historical Peter and historical Paul, with Luke refashioning the words to suit his purposes? In the same way we know that the Gospel of Luke generally did not report Jesus’ words verbatim (allowing for translation and paraphrasing), yet scholars maintain there is a historical core to the gospel.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 16, 2013

      Good question. I’d like to add it to ones I can address in a separate post, rather than reply here. Thanks!

  5. Avatar
    Gerhardt  June 10, 2020

    Of course, the author of Acts wrote all of the speeches in his book! But why this never occurred to me is baffling. It seems so obvious! Doh!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 12, 2020

      Yeah, I know. It does indeed seem obvious once one thinks about it; but even most people who have read Acts a hundred times have never thought about it!

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