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Paul’s Incredibly High Christology

I have been trying to explain the unusually important statement about Christ in Paul’s “Christ Poem” in Phil. 2:6-10.   It’s an extremely high Christology.   Christ is a divine being before coming into the world; and at his exaltation he was made *equal* with God.   Wow.  Just 20 years earlier Jesus was a virtually unknown peasant with a few followers in a remote part of rural Galilee.   Now he’s equal to the Lord God Almighty??   How did *that* happen???

That, of course, is the topic of my book How Jesus Became God.  I try to explain how it happened.  In the book I talk about other passages in Paul that have similarly remarkable things to say about Christ.  Here is how i discuss it there.  (I do refer back to some of my earlier discussions in the book here — e.g., about how some Jews thought of another power being on God’s level; I can post some of those too if anyone is interested.)

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Other Passages in Paul

The incarnational Christology that lies behind the Philippians hymn can be seen in other passages of Paul’s letters as well.   There is no need to go into these at any length; I can simply mention them and say a couple of things about them.   I have already indicated that Paul understood Christ to be the “rock” that provided life-giving water to the Israelites in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4) and pointed out that Paul stated that Christ, unlike the first Adam, came from “heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47).   When Paul talks about God “sending” his son, he appears not to be speaking only metaphorically (like John the Baptist is said to have been “sent” from God in John 1:5, for example); instead, God actually sent Christ from the heavenly realm.  As he put it in the letter to the Romans, “For what the law could not do, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3).   It is interesting that Paul uses this term “likeness” – just as the Philippians poem did, when it spoke of Christ coming in the “appearance” of humans.  It is the same Greek word in the two places.   Did Paul want to avoid saying that Christ actually became human, but that he only came in a human “likeness”?  It is hard to say.

But it is clear that Paul does not believe Christ just …

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appeared out of nowhere, the way angels seem to do in the Hebrew Bible.  One of the verses in Paul that long puzzled me was Galatians 4:4, where Paul said that “When the fullness of time came, God sent his son, born from a woman, born under the law.”  I always wondered why Paul would indicate that Christ had been born from a woman.  What option is there, exactly?  But the statement makes sense if Paul believes that Christ was in fact a pre-existent angelic being.  In that case he indicates that he really was born in a human way: he did not simply appear as the Angel of the Lord did to Hagar, Abraham, or Moses.   Here in the last days he actually was born in the likeness of human flesh, as a child.

Paul says even more exalted things about Christ.  In chapter two, we saw that there were Jewish texts that understood God’s “Wisdom” to be a hypostasis of God, an aspect or characteristic of God that took on its own form of existence.   Wisdom was the agent through whom God created all things (as in Proverbs 8), and since it was God’s Wisdom in particular, it was both God and a kind of image of God.   As the Wisdom of Solomon expressed it, Wisdom is “a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty…for she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness” (7.25-26).   Moreover, we saw that Wisdom could be seen as the Angel of the Lord.

Jesus, for Paul, was the Angel of the Lord.  And so he too was God’s Wisdom, before coming into this world.   Thus Paul can speak of “the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  Even more striking, Christ can be described as the agent of creation:

For us there is one God, the Father,

 from whom are all things and we for whom we exist,

and one Lord Jesus Christ,

 through whom are all things and through whom we exist.  (1 Cor. 8:6)

This verse may well incorporate another pre-Pauline creed of some kind, as it divides itself neatly, as can be seen, into two parts, with two lines each, the first part a confession of God the Father and the second a confession of Jesus Christ.  It is “through” Christ that all things come into being and that believers themselves exist.  This sounds very much like what non-Christian Jewish texts occasionally say about God’s Wisdom.   And God’s Wisdom was itself understood to be God, as we have seen.

So too Jesus in Paul.   One of the most debated verses in the Pauline letters is Romans 9:5.  Scholars dispute how the verse is to be translated.  What is clear is that Paul is talking about the advantages given to the Israelites, and he indicates that the “fathers” (that is, the Jewish patriarchs) belong to the Israelites, and “from them is the Christ according to the flesh, the one who is God over all, blessed forever, amen.”   Here Christ is “God over all.”  That is a very exalted view.

But some translators prefer to take the passage as not indicating that Christ is God, and do so by claiming that it should be translated differently, to say first something about Christ and then, secondly, to give a blessing to God.  They translate the verse, then, like this:  “from them is the Christ according to the flesh.  May the God who is over all be blessed forever, amen.”  The issues of translation are highly complex, and different scholars have different opinions.   The matter is crucial.  If the first is correct, then it is the one place in all of Paul’s letters where he explicitly calls Jesus God.

But is it correct?  My view for many years was that the second translation was the right one, and that the passage does not call Jesus God.  My main reason for thinking so, though, was that I did not think that Paul ever called Jesus God anywhere else, so he probably wouldn’t do so here.  But that, of course, is circular reasoning, and I think the first translation makes the best sense of the Greek, as other scholars have vigorously argued.[1]  It is worth stressing that Paul does indeed speak about Jesus as God, as we have seen.  That does not mean that Christ is God the Father Almighty.  Paul certainly thought Jesus was God in a certain sense – but he does not think that he was the Father.  He was an angelic, divine being before coming into the world; he was the Angel of the Lord; he was eventually exalted to be equal with God and worthy of all of God’s honor and worship.  And so I now have no trouble recognizing that in fact Paul could indeed flat out call Jesus God, as he appears to do in Romans 9:5.

If someone as early in the Christian tradition as Paul can see Christ as an incarnate divine being, it is no surprise that the same view emerges later in the tradition as well.  Nowhere does it emerge more clearly or forcefully than in the Gospel of John.

[1] See the fuller discussion in the commentaries by Fitzmyer and Jewett, cited in note xxx on p. xxx.[/private]


Maybe the Passage wasn’t “Original”!!
A Fuller Exposition of the Christ Poem in Philippians

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Comments

  1. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  March 2, 2020

    Have you ever analyzed the disputed letters of Paul? If so, how does the Christology in them compare to what you have elaborated here?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      Yes, where relevant that’s one of the arguments I use in Forgery and Counterforgery. But in none of the deutero-Paulines is there a direct reflection one way or another on this poem; probably the authors didn’t even know this book.

  2. Avatar
    Stephen  March 2, 2020

    So if we follow your thinking here, as well as the work of Gieschen and Segal, et al, there already existed within Jewish apocalyptic thought concepts that the figure of Jesus could be applied to by early culturally literate Jewish believers (like Paul). If I may use a metaphor, Jesus was the wine poured into a cup that already existed. Thus the possibility of an early high Christology?

    thanks

  3. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 2, 2020

    I guess Marcion has an even more exalted Christology, since he believes Jesus – as a messenger of the *true* God – is over even the God of the Old Testament…

  4. Avatar
    Shawnmrmsh  March 2, 2020

    In your opinion was Paul ever influenced by what we today call Gnosticism ? The use of the word “likeness” is intriguing.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      The general view these days is that what we call gnosticism is a later development, with its first documented appearance maybe 60-80 years after Paul, but based, in part, on much that had gone before

      • Avatar
        Shawnmrmsh  March 3, 2020

        The word “likeness” still intrigues me, in your opinion what was his reason for using it?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 4, 2020

          I *suspect* that he didn’t think Jesus was completely human like all others. But it’s just a suspicion.

          • Avatar
            Shawnmrmsh  March 4, 2020

            It certainly does seem to imply that. I bet proponents of the Christ myth theory love that passage.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 6, 2020

            I doubt it. It would show that Paul believed there was a Jesus.

  5. Avatar
    flshrP  March 2, 2020

    Since Paul wrote his letters to converts he had made at various places, do you think that when he originally convinced these converts to embrace Jesus, he employed this high Christology to win them over to the faith? These converts were pagans who believed in all kinds of transformations from gods to humans and vice versa, as you have pointed out in your writings. So maybe he had to take it to the limit and claim that Christ is equal to God the Father to convince his listeners that their pagan gods were inferior. And to do this he had to add that Christ took human form via passage through a birth canal and just did not just appear to be human but was truly human, in contrast to the numerous pagan gods who only wore their humanity as a mask . Paul seems to be one-upping these pagan ideas of man-gods with his high Christology. Which raises the question whether this high Christology was just a way to win converts or did Paul really buy into that idea completely.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      My sense is that he used the miracle of the resurrection as his main leverage, and went from there.

  6. Avatar
    fishician  March 2, 2020

    I think it odd that Judaism and Christianity are thought of as monotheistic religions. The Jewish scriptures are full of references to other gods (at least, the belief in other gods); even the 10 Commandments seem to presuppose the existence of other gods competing with Yahweh for worship. Christian theology has God the Father, the Son, the Spirit, Satan, demons and angels, all of whom would be thought of as “gods” in pagan religions. If your depiction of Paul’s Christology is correct then Paul certainly thought there was more than one god, though maybe only one Creator God. Or am I understanding this wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      Yes, there’s a bit move now to restrict how the term “monotheism” gets thrown around, since almost everyone, including Jews and Christians, thought there were other divine beings…

    • Avatar
      Scott  March 3, 2020

      I recall a story of how the Ottoman Empire moved into the Balkans partly to counter the heresy of polytheism practiced by Christians with their “three gods.” To an outsider, that’s precisely how it would appear. Heck, even today there are fundamentalists who accuse Catholics of “worshiping” Mary.

  7. Avatar
    joncopeland  March 2, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, what is your opinion of Robert Jewett’s commentary on Romans (and Jewett, in general)?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      He’s a very fine and careful exegete, a very deep and experienced interpreter of Paul.

  8. Avatar
    brenmcg  March 2, 2020

    God the father sent his son to be born of a woman – isn’t Paul implying the virgin birth here?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      No, don’t think so. If you had never heard of a virgin birth, nothing in this passage would suggest it to you.

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  March 3, 2020

        There’s other ways he could have said he was born human – “born of the seed of David”.

        But that doesnt fit with the point of the passage where the world gets adopted to sonship but christ is born the Son.

        So christ being born of a woman makes him human but his father is divine.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 4, 2020

          Yup. His father is divine and his mother was a mortal. That doesn’t mean she was a virgin. Lots of ancient stories talk about a person having a god for a father and the woman is my no means a virgin.

  9. Avatar
    doug  March 2, 2020

    Your point about what “likeness” meant set me to wondering – when you asked “Did Paul want to avoid saying that Christ actually became human, but that he only came in a human ‘likeness’?”, didn’t saying Jesus didn’t become human later become a heresy?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      Yup, very quickly. Paul was used in both sides of the debate.

  10. Avatar
    godspell  March 2, 2020

    Some people think Eric Clapton is God–in a certain sense.

    Personally, I prefer the late Rory Gallagher.

    And anyway, what would that make Jimi Hendrix?

  11. Avatar
    seahawk41  March 2, 2020

    This series of posts has clarified things re”Christology” lots for me! I’ve known for years that John has a much “higher” view than the synoptics, and so I have thought in terms of a gradual movement from what seem like adoptionist positions (e.g., Mark) toward the preexistent Christ, Word of God as seen in John. From your posts, it appears that these views were developing side by side in the early church. Is that correct? More evidence for the diversity of early Christianity!

  12. Avatar
    Oikonomos  March 2, 2020

    This may get a little wonkish, but do you have any thoughts on the other details as to how Paul, if your assessment of his writings is correct, may have seen Jesus as being made fully and equally God? For example, to borrow some Nicene terminology for convenience to illustrate the question, does Paul think that in the Angel of the Lord being promoted to being equal with God mean that Jesus is now his own distinct essence, or substance, that is equal with God, and distinct as a person/hypostasis (so that we now have two essences that are God Almighty and two “persons”); or is he subsumed, incorporated, and merged into the infinite essence of God himself, yet retaining a distinct persona? The first raises logical problems, such as, “If two Gods were distinct in essence and person and yet entirely equal, would either one of them actually be God Almighty anymore?” or “Can an infinite God be duplicated? Can you even add to infinity?” (But I suppose we shouldn’t just assume that Paul would have seen this as an issue!)

    It also would come across as rather odd, given as much as Paul quotes Isaiah, that he would hold this view in contrast to passages like Isaiah 42:8, where Yahweh says he will not share his glory with another. Likewise with, “Before me there was no god formed, nor shall there be any after me.” (Isaiah 43:10) The second approach doesn’t seem to conflict with Isa. 43:10, but gets shaky again versus 42:8. I’m sure the second raises all sorts of thorny logical questions as well, but I’ll leave this be. It’s all well above my pay grade.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      Not wonkish at all (at least for me). It’s the key question. I deal with it at length in my book How jesus Became God. Basic answer: for Paul, as for virtually anyone else in antiquity, when a human was taken up to the divine realm to live with the gods, or in this case, with God, the person was made divine. In this case Christ was made *more* than merely divine, but an equal with God. And yet Paul remained committed to the idea there was one God. Welcome to the beginnings of Trinitarian thinking! BUT, Paul did not think in later Nicaean terms of essences and persons, and so probably would have had a very fuzzy answer.

  13. Avatar
    GeoffClifton  March 3, 2020

    Yes this is very intriguing given the lower Christology in say Mark. I suppose it is not possible to narrow down further the point at which some, presumably anonymous Christian first put forward the idea that Jesus was God?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2020

      Actually, in my book How jesus Became God I try to do just that, justifying the view (which I didn’t hold until I started thinking very seriously about it some seven or eight years ago), that necessarily the very earliest believers in Jesus’ resurrection were teh ones. The reason: everyone in teh ancient world who believed a person had been taken up to dwell with the gods/God in heaven believed the person had been made an immortal divinity. That’s what the earliest followers of Jesus after the resurrection believed.

  14. Avatar
    muneebzia  March 3, 2020

    Wanted to get your thoughts on the usage of God for non-deities in the OT and the concept of ‘Shaliach’, or the Law of agency in the Hebrew Bible. If Paul really was a learned Jew (although from what I know uptil now, I have difficulty accepting that he really was a student of gamaliel) wouldn’t he be well versed in all the different occasions where angels, judges and prophets are called God (a concept that the author of john seems to refers to in John 10:34-36)? Moses was called God in Exodus 7:1, Jacob wrestled with God, Abraham was visited by God etc. Even more interesting our passages like Deut 11:14 and Deut 29:6 where Moses speaking, switches tenses when speaking about YHWH from third person to first person and e.g. in Deut 29:6 says ‘You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God’ …. Here Moses, as in the 11:14, easily switches tenses and says I am YHWH which was never really understood by the Jews as a claim to deity but rather an agent speaking on God’s behalf.
    With this in mind, isn’t it plausible that Paul (and other NT writers, specially John) used this concept from the Hebrew Bible and freely used the word God without implying anything of a pre-existence but rather interpret Christ as always being chosen as the Messiah, someone given all authority to judge as the supreme agent of God but yet he chose to wash people’s feet? This call to humility would be more understandable through his appeal to carmen christi but if he really meant a divine being taking on flesh, isn’t that something that no one will be able to emulate? How can ‘humans’ imitate Christ if he was a divine being? But if he was given all authority and didn’t use that authority to his benefit and ‘chose’ to die, then that would be something that humans can emulate.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Yes, he certainly could have in theory/principle. Other Christians certainly did. But the things he actually says about Christ, especially but not only in the Christ hymn, makes it pretty clear, to me at least, that he did think in terms of a pre-existent divine being who became human (or *like* a human)

  15. Avatar
    JacobSapp01  March 3, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,
    Do you think Paul’s view of Christ as the Angel of The Lord was influenced by whatever his personal experience was that led to his conversion? (Whatever vision, dream, encounter, epileptic episode may have occurred, etc) Or do you think his Higher Incarnation Christology was simply a tradition that he picked up from other followers of Jesus that he found persuasive? If so, how unique do you think his view might have been at the time? Highly? Somewhat? Not very?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      I think his experience, whatever it was, radically confirmed what others were saying about Christ, and that others before him also concluded that Christ has been exalted to heaven and therefore made divine. Some were already talking about pre-existence (e.g. the unknown author of this poet). What Paul’s conversion experience told him that was *different* from the others was that following Christ did not require a person to be or become a Jew — so the key difference was about the message to gentiles, probably not the nature of Christ.

  16. Avatar
    jscheller  March 3, 2020

    Your view of Paul’s Christology is convincing. I do have a question regarding your view of the relationship of Jesus’ spirit to God’s. Can you explain your take on Romans 8:9 and Galatians 4:6?

    On another note, do you see Hebrews 1:1-3 more supportive of Paul’s view of Christ or more supportive of the Father/Son relationship in The Trinity?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      Other people are going to want to know what you’re referring to: can you repeat the question by pointing out the wording of the texts so they see what you mean? That way my answer will make better sense too. Thanks,

      • Avatar
        jscheller  March 4, 2020

        Off the top of my head, so my not be word for word:
        Romans 8:9 “But you are not of the flesh but of The Spirit, if indeed The Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have The Spirit of Christ they are not His.”

        Galatians: 4:6 “And since you are children, God has sent The Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying “Abba!, Father!”

        Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. But in these last days, He has spoken to us through a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He created the worlds. He is the representation of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His very being, and through His powerful word He sustains all things. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.”

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2020

          OK, sorry, I know this is confusing. But now people won’t know what your *questions* are! 🙂 I know it’s a hassle, but if you want me to explain a problem you’re seeing between two or more verses, you’ll need to tell me which words you’re wondering about and ask the question about them in the same comment!

      • Avatar
        jscheller  March 4, 2020

        I also just noticed that the scripture references in my original message have dynamic links attached to them so that t he reader can see the scriptures referenced by floating their mouse over them.

      • Avatar
        jscheller  March 5, 2020

        Your view of Paul’s Christology is convincing. I do have a question regarding your view of the relationship of Jesus’ spirit to God’s. Can you explain your take on Romans 8:9 and Galatians 4:6?

        Romans 8:9 “But you are not of the flesh but of The Spirit, if indeed The Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have The Spirit of Christ they are not His.”
        Galatians: 4:6 “And since you are children, God has sent The Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying “Abba!, Father!”

        On another note, do you see Hebrews 1:1-3 more supportive of Paul’s view of Christ or more supportive of the Father/Son relationship in The Trinity?

        Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. But in these last days, He has spoken to us through a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He created the worlds. He is the representation of God’s glory and the exact imprint of His very being, and through His powerful word He sustains all things. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High.”

        • Bart
          Bart  March 6, 2020

          I’m not sure what you are puzzled about in Romans 8:9 in relation to Galatians 4:6.

          I don’t think Hebrews 1:1-3 is just like Paul’s view or supports the doctrine of the Trinity, so I wouldn’t say it is an either or.

          • Avatar
            jscheller  March 7, 2020

            If I understand you correctly, you believe that Paul saw Jesus as a created angel of God, that when he did what he did was then elevated by God to become “Prime Minister” of God’s creation.

            My first question was basically, if Paul writes about the Spirit of Jesus in a manner that I interpret to be synonymous with the Spirit of God, and Paul writes extensively about God’s Spirit as an entity in and of itself, then what are the implications of that in regard to the assertion that Jesus was completely separate from the big G god?

            Second question regarding passage from Hebrews: To me the text sounds akin to the Colossians 1 assertions about Jesus, as well as the John 1 assertions, both of which are used to justify the notion that God the Father and God the Son are within the same Godhead. I wanted your thoughts on whether you deemed the writer of Hebrews to be more attuned to Paul’s Christology, or more attuned to the proto-orthodox Christology.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2020

            I don’t think Paul thought of Jesus and God’s spirit being the same thing. he distinguishes them. Yes, the Col and Heb passages are very close to each other; but I don’t think Col was written by Paul either. And I don’t think Paul’s Xgy and a Proto-orthodox Christology are distinct categories. I would say proto-orthodox is a later development that intentionally tried to base itself on Paul, as the author of Colossians did earlier, adn the author of Hebrews not so much.

  17. Avatar
    Hormiga  March 4, 2020

    >May the God who is over all be blessed forever, amen

    Perhaps a bit off the current topic, but what did it mean for God to be blessed? I would have thought that God would be the source rather than the object of blessings. Or can humans in some way bless God — and again, what would that mean and what effect would it have?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 4, 2020

      In this case I think it means he is the blessed one forever, rather than that he needs someone else to provide a blessing forhim

  18. Avatar
    RAhmed  March 6, 2020

    Supposing that the poem in Philippians was not composed by Paul, where do scholars believe the high christology started? It doesn’t seem like the Jerusalem church held this view(?). Also, do you think that it was the higher Christology Christians that Paul was persecuting for blasphemy before his conversion? I mean it’s never made sense to me that he was out there hunting down Christians all the way in Damascus when the head of the movement was nestled right there in Jerusalem and was seemingly free to worship in the Temple. So perhaps it was these higher Christology folk he was after? Perhaps it would also make sense why he would adopt THAT view after his experience on the road.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2020

      It’s imporsible to say where, geographically. I wish we could. My view is that Paul was persecuting Christains early on for the claim that a crucified criminal could be the messiah in any sense at all.

      • Avatar
        RAhmed  March 8, 2020

        Do you have any theories on why he wouldn’t have been persecuting the head of the community in Jerusalem Itself? It seems like they had been living there undisturbed.

        Also, this is a bit of a side question, but why was the Jamesian movement (a bunch of poor Galileans) stationed in Jerusalem anyways?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 9, 2020

          I don’t think he was in Jersusalem. He lived in the diaspora, and must have been persecuting the Christians he came upon there. Good question about James’s community. It’s usually thought they expected Jesus to return from heaven soon, back to where he had left, to set up the kingdom in Jerusalem. So they were waiting to meet him.

  19. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  March 10, 2020

    From what I’ve understood, there were different groups within Judaism, all from litteral of different kinds, and also more esoteric /mystical approach to their dogmas (ideas which also could be integrated to the mainsteam Jews) .
    Considering the ideas about the spiritual world view which lies in the esoterim/mystical approach, like Kabbalah, ideas and symbols which seems to predate christianity, and are claimed to be knowned and also partly practiced by some orthodox jews at that time.
    If that is correct, and based on those ideas, I’ve at least guessed that some of the jewish authors writers, apostles/desciples could have been influenced by those ideas. When I read some of Pauls letters, and the Gospel of John, and see some of the descriptions of Christ,, spirit of Christ,,light,,,mystery,,,heaven (3.heaven in 2Col) it is absolutely not different from the language of Jewish orthodox who have adapted Kabbalistic thoughts. If so, a kind of high Christology would ‘t come as a surprise to me, ideas of Christ as an angel/angel like i some way, or even as the second Adam. Even Adam in this esoteric understanding could absolutely mean the first creature who sprung out of God (Adam Kadmon), still surrounding with the infinite light. Sometime, for me it seems like Paul/John (or who wrote them) uses some of the same images, symbols.

    Then, will it be wrong to assume that the pre-excistent devine Christ did not evolve linearely, but was just another interpretation of who the Christ was which had roots in a more esotoric understanding of Judaism?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2020

      The big problem we have is that we don’t have a good idea of what kinds of esoteric Judaism were around at the time. the Kabbalist traditions were not there yet. but there certainly were speculations about the divine realm that today we might think of as mystical. If you’re interested, you might think about reading Alan Segal’s book Two Powers in Heaven.

      • kt@rg.no
        kt@rg.no  March 11, 2020

        Yes, I can see that organizing that kind of wisdom/mystic ideas can be a challenge, just because of the nature of how these ideas was transferred from a teacher to a student in and before the Christian era. Nevertheless, if I have understood it correctly, there were different ideas around which some place before the Christian era like Gnosticism who later some Christian sect embraced. I guess the Gnostics had the ideas from somewhere and it resembles with the kind of old basic Jewish Kabbalah who had a more spiritual cosmology.
        This old Jewish Kabbalah thoughts seems to have references to pre–Jesus is th book called Sefer Yetzirah (book of creation) which they say s the earliest extant Jewish esoteric work and the only one mentioned in the Talmud. Here the scriptureseems to present these ideas (at least some of the fundamental ideas in the old (orthodox) Jewish Kabbalah and can point into a direction that these ideas where familiar among some within the Jewish religious practitioners and scholars. It least that is an indication for me.

        Anyway, what I think is interesting, if these ideas were in circulation, both into sects and also orthodox religious groups, it is also intriguing to tease myself with the idea that the ideas who were around also would have influenced the Jewish authors of the NT scriptures, like for example the Gospel of John, some views and images found in Paul and his Christology, and perhaps also in the Revelation (in my mind it is in particular in the Revelation).
        To this assumed mystical cosmology they perhaps had in and around when Jesus lived, the story is more spiritual, human were first born in the spiritual (“in the image of God he created them” as a spirit since God is said to be an infinite spirit), and later descended into different realms (consciousnesses). With which approach I think I can read some of those “mystical” passages in the NT easier. but of course, I could be wrong.

        Anyway it is perhaps a bit funny for me to see that (the “mystical approach, which some Jews religious scholars claim is the foundation of the whole Torah) correspond to Max Planck’s (the nobel prize father of Quantum Physics said “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”

      • kt@rg.no
        kt@rg.no  March 16, 2020

        I’ve never read “Two Forces in Heaven”, but I’ve read some of it. From what I’ve read, it is about the two (or more) forces of creation. These / these ideas in not what I had in mind, and would in my mind be in opposition to pure monetist Judaism. These dualistic ideas discussed in this book (as far as I have seen) are much more dualistic (perhaps influenced by Platon and / or Zoroastrianism from the Babylonian time) and will challenge the entire Orthodox Jewish view of monotheism.
        I still hold on to this view that there were moneteistic mysterious ideas incorporated into their own texts and views back in the time of Jesus’ life, and even before which so many modern Orthodox Jews claims. And I do not speak of all the diversity of “mystical” branches that sprung up in the Middle Ages.
        I am also sure that there are some connections between different of these dualistic ideas (often mystical like Gnosism) and the more moneteistic ideas that I understand that this alleged Jewish mysticism is about.
        The ideas I point to are not a two (or more) divine power, but rather the idea of “unity”, which contains everything, nothing beyond it. This unit was also in place even after the so-called separation (Adam Kadmon’s state and the beginning of the form and then the descent / separation where the spirit was “trapped” in materiality / physicality, but will be withdrawn into the same entity the connection / divine equality that still exists are there, still as an integral part (as in Psalms, John says we are gods) or in Genesis that we are like the spirit called God, so awaken or spiritualize the true nature again, or what they consider to fulfill 613 mitzvot (Jewish laws) can be “activated.” They even use the golden rule, or what they call it “love your friend as yourself” as a tool or to expand one’s self on the path back from where we are once came.
        So, the idea of “Two forces of creation” is another concept, but with several parallels to the more monetarist idea that I still believe may have existed when some of the OT and NT were written, and may be a source of parables, spiritually concept and the more mysterious texts in the NT.
        For me this is interesting or an attempt to find or perhaps even understand where some of the ideas came from.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2020

          I think you must be talking about a different book. This one is called “Two Powers in Heaven” and it is all about the idea that htere is a second God ruling in heaven along with YHWH in some important strands of Jewish thought.

  20. Avatar
    Brand3000  March 13, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this statement?:

    Gal. 1:16 “To reveal his Son in me.” Before Paul could preach Christ he needed to have that intense conviction which was wrought in him during that struggle upon his conversion. “in me” is equivalent to “through me,” as an instrument. Critics who use use Gal. 1:16 “to reveal his Son in me” as proof that all Paul is claiming is an inner, non-objective vision of the risen Jesus are misguided.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2020

      No, I do not think “in me” is the same as “through” me. And as I’ve said a hundred times, the concept of “objectivity” is not in anyone’s mind in the ancient world, at least in the way it is in ours, so it’s not an appropriate category for what Paul experienced. One of these days I need just to stop saying that. 🙂

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