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

This is the third installment of the thread.  For those who didn’t read the first two installments, I repeat the introduction I gave to them:

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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 these posts 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 3 of the original proposal:

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After these five chapters I will then move to my second way of approaching the matter of the emerging high Christology among the Christians of the first four centuries.  This second approach attempts to complicate the picture by dealing with five diverging paths that led to Christological orthodoxy.  Four of these paths represent dead-ends or ways that went astray, according to the orthodox Christians whose views eventually came to be dominant in Christianity in the fourth century; the fifth way represents the path of orthodoxy (which literally means, “the right way”)

1. The Way that Denies Divinity.    Whereas most Christians of the second and third centuries came to think that Jesus was himself divine, some held to the older and arguably original view that Jesus was a human — a special human, chosen by God, but a human nonetheless.  This denial of Jesus’ divinity can be found in such groups as the Jewish-Christian Ebionites, who maintained that Jesus was a human adopted to be God’s son, but who remained, nonetheless, thoroughly human.  For these Christians, since God is One, Jesus himself cannot, along with God the Father, be divine.  This view was routed by proto-orthodox Christians who insisted that salvation itself depends on the notion that in Christ, God had become a man.

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How Jesus Became God: My Change of Direction
How Jesus Became God: The “Original” Idea, Part 2

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    ZachET  February 3, 2013

    what do you make of Jesus saying ‘before Abraham was I am’ ,not only showing his pre-existence but also mirroring the ‘I am’ saying in Exodus 3:14 said by God

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

      I think it reflects John’s understanding of Jesus (but that it is not historically something Jesus actually said).

  2. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 3, 2013

    I’ve often thought theologians don’t follow ideas to their logical conclusions. I’m sure they’d say, “God is omniscient.” A Catholic theologian, at least, would also say, “Jesus is God.”

    Okay. So that would mean Jesus was omniscient, at every moment of his life. Knew, for example, what would be in the mind of every one of the almost 7 billion humans who are alive at this moment – 2:41 p.m. EST, Feb. 3, 2013 CE. Knew, at every moment of his life, what would be in our minds at every moment of *our* lives! Plus similar information on all the other humans who’ve ever lived, or will live. *And* what would be happening at every moment in time on all the millions of other worlds (some of them probably inhabited) in our Universe.

    How could a Being knowing all that also be “human”? No definition of the term “human” could possibly include someone with the mental capacity I just described.

    Yes, an omnipotent God might will Himself temporarily *not* to be omniscient. But to my knowledge, Christianity has never included that in its teaching.

  3. Avatar
    JohnBradbury  February 3, 2013

    “a mystery that is not susceptible to normal processes of human reasoning”. In other words complete and utter rubbish!

  4. Avatar
    toddfrederick  February 3, 2013

    Any hints on the new direction you will take?

  5. Avatar
    billgraham1961  February 3, 2013

    I would like to suggest at least one chapter about the character of the earliest followers of Christ. I know you’ve written on Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene. Some of that can be retrieved by through a study of the epistles, but I’d love to know if there there were less prominent Christians in the First Century church that wrote anything that might give an insight into how they viewed Jesus.

    I’ve been watching a lot of Quincy ME lately, so please indulge me for just a few minutes here. I know this will sound ridiculous, but I have to suggest it anyway. If we were to take the study of Jesus from a forensic point of view, where would we start? Also, what small, seemingly unrelated details might we explore to find out how people thought of Jesus? Since we don’t have a body to examine, the forensic pathology portion is out, but maybe we can discover something by way of obscure, extra-biblical artifacts about Jesus. Iconography may also yield some important clues since the earliest Christians were illiterate.

    I know that last paragraph went out on a limb, but getting to the bottom of what First Century Christians thought seems like a monumental effort that can only undertaken from the oddest of angles since it is so far removed from our thought patterns today. I truly wish we had had a Quincy ME on the scene in the First Century CE.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

      Yes, scholars have combed all of these tiny obscure fragments with incredible thoroughness!

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 3, 2013

    At three places you write “B.” You write this once at the end of the third way and twice in discussing the fifth way. What in the world is “B”?

    I understand this second approach of five ways, which is similar to the one you take in “Lost Christianities,” much better than the first approach of five ways which seems a little “dry” compared to most of your writing.

    I understand that this was the “original” plan and look forward to the next blog

  7. Avatar
    Jim  February 3, 2013

    Everyone knows that the Way of the Ortho-Para-doxy is totally off base because ortho and para describe the relative placement of substituents on an aromatic ring and not the substance of Jesus. 🙂

    All seriousness aside, regarding points 4 and 5, have you read “Retrieving Nicaea” by Khaled Anatolios and if by chance so, do you have any opinions on his synopsis (basically that most parties in the “ousia” debate during the early fourth century had more in common than the orthodox/heresy labels later that century indicate)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

      Haven’t read it. My impression is that it’s main interest is in modern theological reflection. Is that right?

      • Avatar
        Jim  February 5, 2013

        Yes you are right. It follows the theologies of that era in terms of trajectories deriving from pre-exhistence as an undisputed starting point. Both his book and your scholarly books are way over my head, but I got the impression from his book that by this era most parties at the table had accepted as a given, some form of pre-exhistent Jesus whether via a more refined adoption theology or Trinitarian theology. I’m looking forward to your upcoming book because it get the impression from your posts that it will reconstruct the transition prior to this period. Thanks again for your posts.

  8. Avatar
    Dr.Context  February 3, 2013

    Looking foward to this with great expectation

  9. Avatar
    Christian  February 4, 2013

    This approach reminds me of your book “The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture.” Are there other scholars who argue with you for the prime importance of controversies in the shaping of orthodoxy?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

      Well, conservative evangelical scholars tend to think that there were not very severe controversies and that later orthodoxy is simply the working out of the obvious implications of earlier orthodoxy….

  10. Robertus
    Robertus  February 4, 2013

    So, just guessig here, the things that I think you may have changed your mind on are, 1) Jesus was considered something akin to a god rather early, depending on how one interprets Paul (eg, 1 Cor 8, 6, Phlpn 2,9-11). This development occurred within a couple of decades, not a century. Thus much of it occurred within a Jewish hellenistic milieu.

    And 2) any sense of Jesus as Son of Man in an exalted, Danielic sense is not so early, maybe hints of this can be seen in Q, but this is not explicit until Mark. If the historical Jesus emphasized the coming Son of Man, wouldn’t you expect some mention of this in Paul’s very apocalyptic theology? Instead Paul is already expecting Jesus’ return, but never in terms of a titular, Danielic Son of Man.

    Regarding (1): “

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 5, 2013

      You’re right on #1 but #2, not so much. I think the Danielic sense of Son of Man goes back to Jesus, and that he was not talking about himself.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  February 5, 2013

        Geza Vermes, Maurice Casey and Larry Hurtado convinced me me to doubt the pre-Christian titular sense of the Son of Man. Haven’t made up my mind yet about all the Son of Man sayings in Q yet.

  11. Avatar
    Dr.Context  February 5, 2013

    I wonder at what point that the so called “I am” became a proof text? I have a hunch that I would like to have verified that it only became a proof text after being converted to English. Here is my thoughts, for what it is worth; The J,E,P,D theory or something similiar states that several traditions were combined to create what we have now. One group/tradition giving his name to be rememberd from generation to generation as YHWH. Another group/ tradition, out of reverence would not speak the name YHWH and this tradition replaced YHWH with “I am who I will be”. The Exodus account is plain to see in it’s strange way of giving two different names to be remembered “from generation to generation”, or two different answers to “what if they ask who sent me, clearly revealing two seperate traditions merging together. So through this we realize that it was not God who gave his name as “I am”. If so, these words would never be spoken out of reverence, yet we see the words used throughout the scriptures.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 5, 2013

    I found #3 and #4 paths hard to understand although I read them several times. Usually, I am able to understand your writing without much difficulty. That is one of your strong points: Your clear writing.

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