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How Jesus Became God: The “Original” Idea, Part 2

This is the second installment of the thread.  For those who didn’t read the first installment from yesterday’s post, I repeat the introduction I gave to it there (though this post will make better sense if you read that one first):


Several people have asked about the book I’m working on this term, How Jesus Became God, in particular in relation to what I mentioned in my earlier post, how I’ve learned a lot doing my research and changed my views on important issues related to the  book.  Explaining all that is a bit complicated, and I thought one good way to do it would be to show what I had *originally* planned to do with this book when I first proposed it to a publisher maybe seven or eight years ago, and then explain how the book now will be different, both in the way I’ll set it up and in what I think now about the topic.

So for this post and the next two I will reproduce my original book proposal.  REALIZE, please, that this is what I was ORIGINALLY planning.  In lots of ways it still makes sense, but I’ve changed it now, and to make sense of the changes, you have to see what the original looked like.  So here’s part 2 of the original proposal:


The present book will build on the foundation of this earlier study (Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium) by asking how Jesus the apocalyptic prophet of God came to be seen and worshiped as God himself — God of God and Lord of Lords.  My first tack will involve looking at a range of conceptualities of Jesus that can be firmly located to the time of his ministry, and to show how each one of them came to be transmogrified in such a way as to predicate some notion of divinity to Jesus himself.

This section of the book will involve discussing five converging paths that led to the idea that Jesus was himself divine:


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How Jesus Became God: The “Original” Idea, Part 3
How Jesus Became God: The *Original* Idea



  1. Avatar
    songster  February 1, 2013

    About 7 years ago I was cajoled/hoodwinked in to playing guitar for a praise team ( strange terminology to me). As a musician and person it’s been a rewarding experience. Prior to this I considered myself to be more biblically literate than the average spiritually-oriented agnostic. Since this is a Lutheran church, I’ve grown accustomed to the (western) liturgical calendar. Still, I often kindly remind my fellow band members that I am not a Christian. Since I’ve become the musical driving wheel (I endeavor to make this contemporary worship stuff sound decidedly un-caucasian) they are very forgiving and good humored. I really can’t afford to be one of your members, but blogs like this help keep me sane and well-worth the expense. Good to know there are native Kansans who represent our state in a manner not appreciated by the media at large.

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    maxhirez  February 2, 2013

    “…it was used as the Greek construal for the tetragrammaton…”
    Will you be going into this in the book? My Greek is poor, but I do remember Elohim and Adonai were the Hebrew words for (the big) God and Lord, while the Tetragrammaton is YHWH (roughly.) Which did they Hellenize,and what form did it take?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 3, 2013

      Yes, Elohim came to be translated at THEOS (= God) and both Adonai and YHWH as KURIOS (= Lord).

  3. Avatar
    toddfrederick  February 2, 2013

    A few thoughts:

    1. Most of what you outline comes from the orthodox New Testament Canon. Much of this could have been read back into the gospels when the gospels were written, reflecting Pauline Christology as well, quite some time after Jesus’ death. The points made in part two of your post may not have been actually how Jesus saw his role in his mission but how the early church saw his role.

    2. Between the time of Paul’s death there is a gap that is not accounted for in the New Testament. This gap is quite long, from the late first century until the early 300’s….about 200 years. I suppose this is the age of the “apostolic fathers” when much was done in defining formal doctrine. There were also many other Christian groups quite different from those eventually chosen as orthodox…the gnostics and others, as well as the Jerusalem Jewish church and later the Ebionites.

    3. This brings me to a position that I have long thought significant (my study of this in far from complete, however)…that the Emperor Constantine played a major role in defining the Canon of scripture, the legality of the Christian groups deemed orthodox, the expulsion of the non-orthodox groups and the attempted destruction of their documents, increasing rejection of the Jews, and, perhaps most importantly, what may be the mixing of Mithraism and Christianity viewing Jesus as a god as was Mithras, and what appears to be an attempt by Constantine to elevate himself to a god status. By legalizing Christianity, along with Mithraism, and elevating his position as an emperor-god, he would eliminate opposition to his authority, establish a new capital of the Roman Empire in Constantinople, sending his mother off to Palestine to find relics and holy sites, and making himself the greatest emperor yet, authorized by all established religions, especially orthodox Christianity.

    Simply put, I think there is a significant role that Constantine plays in establishing Jesus as God as seen in the formulation of the Nicene Creed which is considered a standard for belief in most orthodox churches today.

    This is speculation, of course, but my studies of this lead me to such considerations.

    Question: What do you think is the role of Constantine in all of this?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 3, 2013

      I don’t see Constantine playing much of a role in issues such as the formation of the canon or in elevating himself to divine status. Where are you getting your information from? I can give some bibliography on Constantine if you’d like; I don’t talk about him much in my publications, but do deal with him (in respect to Christology and canon) in my book on the Da Vinci Code.

      • Avatar
        toddfrederick  February 3, 2013

        I would like some references to his role in establishing Christianity as an organized structure (pro and con). It is my understanding that he was instrumental in making Christianity a legal religion in the Roman Empire, he sent his mother, Helena, (at about the age 80) to Jerusalem where she is said to have discovered the true cross, the place of Jesus crucifixion, his tomb and many other sites (so legend tells us), and it is a part of tradition that he was baptized prior to his death, not to mention convening the Council of Nicaea to formulate the second creed that most orthodox churches still use and believe today.

        I think that there is much evidence that he played a significant role in the formation of what became the Roman Catholic Church which eventually led to the Holy Roman Empire. The Canon of scripture developed gradually and is still a mixed-bag of documents among many contemporary churches throughout the world today but, as I understand it, he had a role in the selection.

        I can not find a lot from scholarly sources on this man, and many of my sources I have forgotten since they came through history of Christianity text books and other studies, but most recently I viewed a portion of a documentary made by Simcha Jakovocici dealing with this issue and a recent critical examination of the Arch of Constantine which had been closed to examination until recently…that got me thinking about this again.

        Since serious scholars examine every factor involved in the formation of scripture and in the history of the development of the church…always disagreeing and debating their findings…I thought this to be a possible issue to consider.

        I personally think that with the Christian movement becoming legal through Constantine, it became organized, wealthy, and a power-broker in history, which killed what Jesus was all about.

        I have often speculated that Constantin’s role in the development of the church as a formal organization and in the development of doctrine is far greater than what many think, and I am seeking your opinion by asking my question.

        I will check out your book on the Da Vinci Code and any other recommended sources you might suggest. I do not make a habit of going off on a tangent like this without data to back it up and I need data.

        Again, I am not a scholar and have no means to delve into this through original sources, so I look to your ideas and thoughts on such matters.

        Thank you

        • Avatar
          toddfrederick  February 3, 2013

          Dr. Ehrman…With regard to the influence of Constantine in the solidification of the Christian Church as a religious and political power in the western world, I am searching my resources. The first is a selection of articles related to Constantine that are posted on the internet (hundreds with solid academic credentials). Below I am siting a few links. I have also used histories of Christianity, both in popular form and in text form.

          Any other sources you can provide will be most appreciated.

          As I mentioned above…I think Constantine marks a pivotal change in the direction of the legitimacy of the Christian church as both a religious and a political power as well as, through the Council of Nicea, the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity establishes in a formal way that Jesus is God.

          I am not saying that I personally believe this as an article of my own faith (I don’t) but looking at this historically, the role of Constantine is critical, in my opinion.

          Thank you for considering this.






          United Methodist Church document


        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

          Two books very useful for (very) different aspects of Constantine and his influence: James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword (really more about his anti-Jewish tendencies, but very useful also in its general overview of Constantine) and Hal Drake, Constantine and the Bishops (for more hard-hitting and authoritative views).

          • Avatar
            toddfrederick  February 5, 2013

            Thank you. James Carroll is mentioned in many of the sources I have read. I do think Constantine is critical in the establishment of “orthodox” Christianity as the only accepted form at that time in history and that the Nicean Creed established orthodox doctrine. I want to explore this in greater depth. I think he ran a power scam !!! Thank you for the recommendations.

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    Jim  February 2, 2013

    In Dan 7:13, son of man means human being. The everlasting kingdom was to be given to the bar enash from the house of David and not to those nasty Seleuicids. This son of man would be a human king and would continue the kingly line of David.

    By NT times there seems to be more than one application of this term, one of which overlaps with the idea of a heavenly messiah (Enoch and IV Esdras). Enoch’s Messiah was a pre-existent heavenly Messiah (a man-like angelic being) occupying a seat in heaven beside the Ancient of Days and who existed before the stars of heaven were made. He will be revealed at the end of time and given a throne to judge all creatures (chosen for this as per God’s plan from the beginning). There was apparently a link developing between the Son of Man, Messiah, and the Logos during the first century BCE.

    So if Jesus went along with this Enochian apocalyptic view, could he not have considered himself as pre-existent thus he himself implicating he was divine, or were the terms Son of Man/Messiah used in NT promiscuously leading to some confusion?

  5. Avatar
    Jerry  February 2, 2013

    Am reading a new book about this now, “Paul and Jesus” by James D Tabor. If familiar with either the book or the author, any comments? He stresses that Paul won the “literary victory”, created orthodoxy, and quashed the Christianity before Paul, that was headed by James that is more or less described by the Q source, the content of the book of James, and the Didiche. Are you writing something similar?


  6. Avatar
    mjardeen  February 2, 2013

    For me, there have always been two paths to godhood for Jesus. The first is the mythologizing of his life. The more distant we become from an event; especially in ancient times, the bigger the ‘fish’ becomes. So as the apostles told the stories and as those stories were passed down they became larger than life. I think most stories have some kernel of truth in them.

    The second has to do with the with the separation from Judaism that occurred, first with Paul’s mission to the gentiles and then with the critical event of Constantine’s conversion and the eventual rise of the Catholic Church of Rome. To expand beyond the Jews it was necessary that the new faith take on elements that were not Jewish. In addition the Jews were hated by the Romans and this made it even more essential. The final straw was the removal of the Jewish holy days from the calendar.

    In moving beyond the Jews and then in becoming Roman the faith was no longer bound by the “Thou shalt have no other God before me” limitation that was finally cleared up by declaring that all were one and separate, yet indivisible. Thus Jesus became Christ, and Christ became God.

  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 3, 2013

    About Jesus as the Messiah… We know he didn’t claim to be divine. But I’ve begun wondering, did his seeing himself as the Messiah mean that he really was delusional?

    I’m assuming he was a man no different from others, who could have chosen to live out his life as a manual laborer in Nazareth. If he thought any man who stepped forward, claimed the role of Messiah, and made an all-out effort to fulfill it, had the potential to *be* the Messiah, he wasn’t delusional. But if he thought he was “special,” had been all his life, it seems to me that he *was* delusional.

    Did he know there was a belief that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem? I wonder how he rationalized that. (Assuming, of course, that he *wasn’t* born in Bethlehem.)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 3, 2013

      My view is that it’s very difficult to apply modern psychological categories and standards to people in ancient cultures. So I’m not sure delusional works. But he was certainly wrong, if he thought he was the future messiah! It would be possible to be Messiah without being born in Bethlehem, since Micah 5:2 does not explicitly mention the messiah.

  8. bchungdmd
    bchungdmd  February 3, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman, is it right to say we humans made Jesus a god? Or did he claim to be one (a delusional claim)? Thanks for this thought. While others may accuse you to be a god, I claim that divine aspect. Perhaps I have the spirit of the Lord.

  9. Avatar
    wisemenwatch  February 3, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman, you wrote :”Focus in each chapter will thus be on key texts of the early Christian writings, with an eye toward how Christians began understanding the significance of who Jesus was based, in part, on their reading of the Jewish Scriptures, which they saw as authoritative for their understandings of God, Christ, and themselves.”

    I don’t understand how in the world, if the early Christians took the Jewish Scriptures to be authoritative, that they could think of Jesus as God, in light of this:

    (From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shema_Yisrael#Shema_in_Christianity)

    “Shema Yisrael (or Sh’ma Yisrael) (Hebrew: שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל; “Hear, [O] Israel”) are the first two words of a section of the Torah, and are the title (sometimes shortened to simply “Shema”) of a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services. The first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4.

    Observant Jews consider the Shema to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation as a mitzvah (religious commandment). It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.

    The term “Shema” is used by extension to refer to the whole part of the daily prayers that commence with Shema Yisrael and comprise Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37–41″

    Jesus as God is surely a pagan concept (?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 3, 2013

      There were many Jews who held that even though there was one GOD ALMIGHTY, there were lots of other divine beings who could be understood as, in some sense, gods.

      • Avatar
        wisemenwatch  February 4, 2013

        Yeah, but….
        I can’t think of the Jews elevating any other human to the status of a god. It was the Romans who did that, right?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

          Ah, stay tuned! (Just as a starter, Philo refers to Moses as “a second God”!)

        • Avatar
          Kasey  February 6, 2013

          Ealier texts like Ap. Abr. record variegated angels (namely Jaoel and YHWHel) taking on the names of God and being praised. Also in Ap. Mos. Moses is able to sit on the throne of YHWH, and does(!). As Dr. Ehrman briefly mentions, Philo mentions in ‘life of Moses’ that Moses “was named God and King”.
          later texts like b. Hagigah 15a and 3 Enoch corroborate one another concerning the status of Metatron (Enoch’s exalted heavenly anthropomorphism). He is known to have been elevated to a level of being the second diety (aka. “little YHWH”).

    • Avatar
      Malik  January 9, 2018

      There are many argument that I have faced when I ask the question. “Where is there a trinity in the OT?” .
      A unique argument is to claim that the Hebrew word ‘ECHAD (one) in Deut 6:4 is a compound unity.

      Let’s keep aside Hebrew grammar , and go along this with there assertion. Can two form a compound unity? Can three form a compound unity? Can four form a compound unity? Can INFINITY form a compound unity?
      So anyone who uses this argument, has just shown that a pantheistic religion like Hinduism has become a viable option..

      Moreover, and what clinches the deal, is that this same verse is echoed in Mark 12:29 has used the word HEIS for one:

      And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:

      Now going back to the LXX(Septuagint), you find that the same word HEIS is used for One in Deut 6:4. Dr. Ehrman, can correct me, but the Greek word HEIS is in no way a compound unity.

      My own little rant on this issues and related:

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 3, 2013

    Someone said here that in the Book of Daniel, the term “Son of Man” refers to a human king, who would come from the line of David. I’m puzzled. I’m not about to dig out a Bible and check it, but as I remember it, that Book refers to an apocalypse during which a succession of supernatural beings would rule the Earth. One after another would have some bizarre animal form; but the last would have “the form of a Son of Man.” In other words, would look like a human, though he’d really be a supernatural being (“divine”).

    Someone else said the Romans hated the Jews. Is that correct? Of course, I realize such attitudes fluctuate over time. But it was my impression that while the pagan Romans resented both Christians’ and Jews’ refusal to acknowledge the Roman gods, they bore less ill will toward the Jews because the Jews didn’t proselytize.

    • Avatar
      mjardeen  February 9, 2013

      Since I brought it up, what part did the Roman’s attitudes towards the Jews play in the rise of Orthodoxy. My readings have left me with the impression that: 1. The Romans viewed Palestine as an expensive territory that was prone to rebellion and consisted of followers of a religion that viewed the world in a way that they did not accept, and 2. As the faith spread and was accepted by the Romans, the transition of the faith included the removal of most of what was Jewish in the origin of the faith.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  February 10, 2013

        It’s hard to say. Christains wanted to hold on to their Judaism because it provided antiquity for their claims about their religoin, and yet they also wanted to make the religion palatable to non-Jews.

  11. Avatar
    Kakuzato  December 17, 2018

    When people started to count years AD? Meaning that somewhere somebody decided like 2018 years ago that it’s good idea. How it happened? Also if the birth year of Jesus is uncertain how that problem was dealed with?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2018

      Our calendar goes back to a sixth-century monk named Dionysius Exiguus; among other things, he miscalculated the date of King Herod’s death, which results in Jesus being born in 4 BC — four years Before Christ!

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