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Exaltation Christology: Some Background

Yesterday I posted the first in what will be a series of reflections on the earliest Christian Christologies (understandings of Christ), a in this post I would like to provide some necessary background information that will allow that post to make even better sense.

In that post I began to outline what I take to be the earliest Christology of all. Jesus and his followers, I maintained, saw him(self) as a man and nothing more than a man (who was a great teacher, a prophet, and the future messiah of the coming kingdom – but human through and through, nothing else). But once these followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead, they altered their view to begin to think that God had exalted him to heaven and made him his specially anointed one, his Son, who would indeed be the future messiah and who would bring in that Kingdom himself when he returned from heaven as the Son of Man.

And so, why do I think that this Christological view – that God made Jesus his Son at the resurrection, the one who reigns *now* (and so is already the “ruler” or the “anointed one” or the “messiah,”), and so is the lord of the kingdom (the LORD) already? It’s a complicated story.

A bit of personal background. I took my first PhD seminar at Princeton Theological Seminar before I was a PhD student. I was in the senior year of my Masters of Divinity program, and I knew that I wanted the next year to get into the PhD program. That year one of the great professors of NT at Princeton, Paul Meyer, was offering a PhD seminar (for PhD students only), called “Creeds and Hymns in the NT.” I had taken a crazy-hard six-week crash-course German the summer before at Princeton University, and so I could already read scholarship in German (where most NT scholarship had been and was being done at the time). And so I asked Prof. Meyer if he would make an exception to his rule not to allow MDiv students into his graduate seminars, and I somehow convinced him. So now I was in with the big boys. (And yes, they were all boys.)

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Exaltation Christology in an Early Creed
The Earliest Christology



  1. Avatar
    Jim  February 7, 2013

    Koine involved a bit of reconstruction as it was dormant for around ~ 1K years. Has this posed any difficulties regarding spotting quotations/creeds/statements of faith etc., or is this a non-issue? (obviously I can’t read the NT in Greek and my familiarity with Jabberwocky comes from a Monty Python movie)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 8, 2013

      The language very much has to be taken into account, but hte fact it was Koine doesn’t itself pose any problems.

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    Scott F  February 7, 2013

    “Up with your beard, Durin’s son!” is heard in our home on a regular basis.

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    Scott F  February 7, 2013

    Funny. On his blog, the apologist J P Moreland claims that all these early hymns and creeds “consistently present a portrait of a miraculous and divine Jesus who rose from the dead.” Somehow I don’t think you will be coming to quite the same conclusion. (http://www.theologynetwork.org/biblical-studies/going-on/the-historicity-of-the-new-testament.htm)

    Moreland also says that these creeds frequently map back to Aramaic. True?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 8, 2013

      Some do. And they do portray Jesus as raised from the dead. I’ll be dealing with “in what sense” they consider Jesus’ divine.

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    Dr.Context  February 7, 2013

    First, let me say that I appreciate your taking his time to entertain us with his knowledge of the history of Christianity Dr. Erhman. I have most of your books. Learned more from your books than any I can recall. I find your lack of a need to protect a tradition, refreshing. I was so excited when you mentioned that you were intending to write a book about the beliefs about Jesus in early Christianity. Your “readability” caused me to think that this may be the one. The book that gets it all right. A book I can point others to. I was pleased with your proposed direction showing that Jesus was known by his followers as a man. But I have to say that I am disappointed in the idea of a high Christology in Paul’s writings. I am one that believes that explanation exist for the small handfull of problematic verses. I have not the study time that you have so therefore I feel foolish in even posting this, yet my unfounded, unverified hunch is that only after the writings known as the NT did he evolve into God. This from incorrect translating. Misunderstanding that which the original writer intended. Sure, this was not the only reason, yet I assume it to be the main reason. I look foward to your book. Who knows, maybe you will convince me that this hunch is wrong.

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    toddfrederick  February 7, 2013

    This is all very new and rich in insight to me. If you aren’t careful you’ll re-convert yourself. 😀

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    stuart  February 8, 2013

    I imagine that one challenge you have had with the development of Christology is distinguishing what beliefs may have been widespread amongst Jesus’ followers from what may have been a radical opinion. Obviously we just have a few books/letters from a few authors of the time. One interesting gospel passage (Matthew 16:14) gives the impression that the people around Jesus had a wide range of views of who he was (e.g. Elijah or Jeremiah). I think Christians like to point this passage out as a clear example of Jesus acknowledging his divinity, whereas I think it is more interesting as an example of just how many different supernatural beliefs people had at the time. If, for example, someone who believed Jesus was Elijah (reincarnated or just beamed down from heaven?) had written a letter, that had survived to this day, your analysis of the progress of Christology might have gone off on a whole new tangent?

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    brandyrose  February 8, 2013

    Thank you for explaining this in more detail! I learned from your books about creed in Philippians, etc., and always thought their closeness in time to Jesus’ life was tantilizing. Really very fascinating stuff!

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