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Jesus as God in the Synoptics: A Blast From the Past

I sometimes get asked how my research in one book or another has led me to change my views about something important.  Here is a post from four years ago today, where I explain how I changed my mind about something rather significant in the Gospels.  Do Matthew, Mark, Luke consider Jesus to be God?  I always thought the answer was a decided no (unlike the Gospel of John).  In doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God, I ended up realizing I was probably wrong.  Here’s how I explained it all back then.

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This, I believe, will be my final post on an issue that changed my mind about while doing the research for How Jesus Became God.   This last one is a big one – for me, at least.   And it’s not one that I develop at length in the book in any one place, since it covers a span of material.   Here’s the deal:

Until a year ago I would have said – and frequently did say, in the classroom, in public lectures, and in my writings – that Jesus is portrayed as God in the Gospel of John but not, definitely not, in the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   I would point out that only in John did Jesus say such things as “Before Abraham, I am” (8:58; taking upon himself the name of God, as given to Moses in Exodus 3); his Jewish opponents knew full well what he was saying: they take up stones to stone him.   Later he says “I and the Father are one” (10:30)  Again, the Jews break out the stones.  Later he tells his disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”  (14:9).  And in a later prayer to God he asks him to “glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world was created” (17:5).

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Comments

  1. Rick
    Rick  April 14, 2018

    I wonder how the Bishops at Nicea reconciled thier new creed to Mark and Luke or did they rely only on John? How were the adopted GodSon of Mark and the demigod of Luke the “same substance” as El Shadai? If they spoke Greek or Latin (probably both) I would think thier demigod concept would be more Greek in which Hercules was powerful but certainly not Zues….

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      Yes, they definitely appealed to all the Gospels, just as modern theologians do.

  2. Avatar
    Tony  April 14, 2018

    Bart, in your esteemed opinion, when do you think Paul’s Jesus became God? Was it at conception, birth, baptism, transfiguration, his death, was he pre-existing, or none of the above?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      At his resurrection/exaltation.

      • Avatar
        Tony  April 15, 2018

        I phrased the question wrong and actually meant to ask about the status of Jesus as son of God, but I’ll assume you’d give the same answer.

        My reading – Paul’s son of God Jesus is pre-existing:
        Rom 8:3; Gal 4:4: 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:6-11; and later Paul followers in Col 1:15-20. Also, Paul’s mystery revelations such as Rom 16:25-27 indicate pre-existence.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 16, 2018

          I explain my view of Paul’s christology fairly fully in my book How jesus Became God.

      • Lev
        Lev  April 16, 2018

        That’s a really interesting response, Bart.

        How do you account for the hymn Paul reproduced with approval in Phil 2:5-11? Especially v6-7?
        [NRSV]
        “who, though he was in the form of God,
        did not regard equality with God
        as something to be exploited,
        7 but emptied himself,
        taking the form of a slave,
        being born [I contest the translation ‘born’] in human likeness.
        And being found in human form,
        8 he humbled himself
        and became obedient to the point of death—
        even death on a cross.”

        Here Paul seems to suggest the pre-existence of Christ who “emptied himself” of his divinity, yet retained his identity as Christ.

        I agree with you that Paul’s Christ was made divine (again?) at his resurrection, but how would you answer those who point to the Philippian Hymn as an example where Paul sides with those who argue pre-existence?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 17, 2018

          A lot of your questions I deal with in my book How Jesus Became God. Yes, for Paul Jesus did pre-exist. But he was “hyper-exalted” to be given the divine name above all names at the resurrectin-exaltation. I give a detailed explanation in the book.

          • Lev
            Lev  April 18, 2018

            I think I’m going to do it Bart – I’m going to buy your book.

            Pretty soon, I’ll need a dedicated shelf for you as they’re racking up quickly!

            Do I get a degree in Ehrmanism if I read all of them? 😀

  3. Avatar
    Marty2Shoes  April 14, 2018

    In John 20::15-17, Jesus, speaking to Mary, tells her not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to His Father and God, and to the disciples Father And God, therefore I do not believe he meant to imply that he is God.

    I am not a Greek scholar, but the way that I have looked at John 1:1 is that the “Logos” are the sayings of God and they embody and idea or a plan which pertains to God giving us His uniquely begotten Son, and by this “Logos” God has revealed His character to humanity. I do not believe that this indicates that Jesus existed as a sentient being with God from the beginning, but that he was foreordained (1 Peter 1:17-20). When he states “before Abraham was ‘Iam” in John he means “I exist” as someone who was foreordained. In Exodus 3 God states “I am that I am”, not just simply “I am”. God does not tell us to whom he was speaking in Genesis 1:26, but I believe that he was speaking to the angels because of Job 38. He is one with the Father in the spirit (John 17:20-23). The statement that he makes about having had glory with the Father before the world was is that this was fore-seen as such from the beginning. It was a done deal. (John 17 :24, may explain, also Rev. 13:8)

  4. Avatar
    forthfading  April 14, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think evangelical scholars are just off in left field to think that the evidence could be weighed in such a way to see Jesus as “God”? I know you would weigh the evidence more in favor of a simple divine god-man, but is it too far fetched to see the synoptics portraying Jesus as the great “I Am”?

    Best

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      I’m not sure what you’re asking. Are you asking whether I myself personally think Jesus is God? No, I absolutely do not. Or are you asking if the Synoptics have the same view of Christ as John has. Again, absolutely not.

      • Avatar
        forthfading  April 17, 2018

        I have been a fan of your scholarship over the last decade, and so I am very aware of your personal and historical views of Jesus as God. LOL!

        What I’m asking is if you think that evangelical views of Jesus as “The God” would be on the level of something like denying the Holocaust? Or are they simply weighing evidence differently? When someone sees a glass of water filled halfway, one scholar may say half full and another half empty. They are seeing the same evidence differently?

        Thanks

        • Bart
          Bart  April 17, 2018

          I would say they are weighing the evidence differently and often simply overlooking the evidence because of views they bring *to* the evidence.

  5. Avatar
    mjruss143  April 15, 2018

    How does this relate to the Trinity? How do explain the Trinity?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      I discuss that at length in my book How jesus Became God. It would be much too difficult to do in a brief comment on a blog!

  6. Avatar
    Steefen  April 15, 2018

    Why did my preacher just say Messiah/Savior means metanoya? I don’t quite remember you telling us that. What word do you think he’s saying? He also said we get the word metamorphosis from metanoya?

    Dr. Michael B. Brown is leaving Marble Collegiate Church, New York and now he’s giving his farewell service sermon.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 15, 2018

      Maybe you misunderstood him? Metanoia means “repentance.”

    • talmoore
      talmoore  April 15, 2018

      Funny enough:
      “Messiah” and “Savior” in Hebrew are too different words that just happen to sound very similar.
      Messiah comes from the Hebrew “moshiach” (משיח) which means “anointed,” as with oil. Such anointment was standard practice for the coronation of Israelite kings and high priests.
      The Hebrew word for “savior,” on the other hand, is actually “moshi’a” (מושיע) which means one who helps or saves.
      The only real difference between the two words, in classical Biblical Hebrew, is that the last syllable is aspirated in the former, and unaspirated in the latter.

      • Robert
        Robert  April 17, 2018

        This is true if one follows the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Central and Eastern European Jews, but not true of Sephardic pronunciation of Mediterranean Jews, including Israel, where Messiah is pronounced as mashiach. Just a fun fact for anyone learning Hebrew

        • talmoore
          talmoore  April 18, 2018

          Well, for starters, modern Israeli Hebrew tends to follow Ashkenazi pronuncations more often than Sephardic.

          Moreover, the distinction between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Hebrew didn’t exist in Jesus’ time (which is why I described the Chet as an aspirated pharyngeal fricative, where Ayin is an unaspirated pharyngeal fricative; in modern Hebrew, a Chet is articulated as an uvular fricative, like Khaf). Assuming that the closest possible example of how Jesus and his disciples pronouned Hebrew is the Tiberian Hebrew of the Mishnah (ca. 2nd century), then the qamatz in מָשִׁיחַ would have been pronouned somewhat in between a short /o/ and a long /a/ — kind of like how someone from New Jersey would pronounce the ‘o’ in New York. (In modern Hebrew, an /a/ pronuncation would be the qamatz gadol, while an /o/ pronunciation would be the qamatz qatan.)

          • Robert
            Robert  April 21, 2018

            I’ve never been to Israel, just tried to make sense of different pronunciations I hear in the US and the biblical Hebrew I learned in Dutch. I learned an ‘a’ sound for מָשִׁיחַ, which this pronunciation guide gives for both biblical and modern Hebrew: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%A9%D7%99%D7%97

            Is that not really correct? Would most Israelis read מָשִׁיחַ in the TNK with an ‘o’ sound? Likewise in modern Hebrew pronunciation in Israel?

            Of course, none of that matters if you’re trying to reconstruct Jesus’ own pronunciation.

  7. tompicard
    tompicard  April 15, 2018

    How do the synoptics portray Jesus as “more than human” ?

    I don’t see Jesus (Mark 1) hearing/realizing himself to “be God’s son”, that “God loves him”, and that “God is pleased with him” implies Jesus is “more than human” . Do you?
    it does not imply all other humans are not likewise loved by God, are not God’s children, nor are unpleasing to God. Maybe, and I think probably, Jesus took his own epiphany at his baptism, to teach his disciples they are also God’s children, are also loved by God and also pleasing to Him, ie that they should realize their own DIVINE character and their own relationship with God as he had.

    Now considering Lk 1:35 Gabriels words “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the one to be born will be called the Son of God.” I suppose implies Jesus is conceived with God’s power and purpose but does not imply Jesus was born without a physical father (unless we are conditioned by 2000 years of reference to the Virgin Mary). Note the man’s home whom Mary visits in following couple verses, and whose home she is probably kicked out of when it apparent she is to be an unwed mother.

  8. Avatar
    VirtualAlex  April 18, 2018

    If Jesus became divine at his baptism for Mark, did he lose his divinity on the cross when he felt God had forsaken him?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 18, 2018

      Not for Mark, no.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  April 18, 2018

        Mark may have thought Jesus became divine, but he doesn’t seem to have portrayed his Jesus as knowing it. If the theme of his gospel is that no-one could see it, Jesus doesn’t seem to be in on it either.

        Mark doesn’t think Jesus became (part of?) THE god, does he? Just kind of generally divine?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 20, 2018

          I’m not sure what becoming part of the God would mean. He is the Son of God for Mark, the one made divine probalby at his baptism.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  April 18, 2018

        And I’m not totally convinced that Mark thinks adoption should mean one becomes divine either, by his portrayal of Jesus. All Christians are adopted by God, per Paul, but no,indication that they become divine. Were there different views of what adoption by God meant? And miracle working isn’t a sign of divinity either. Jews were fairly accepting of this skill by godly men without thinking they were divine in some way. And Mark doesn’t indicate that resurrection was a sign of divinity, does he? more like a sign of God’s power rather than anything to do,with the proof Jesus was divine.

        What a hot mess Christianity was…is…

        • Avatar
          godspell  April 22, 2018

          Name me any belief system–theistic or secular–that isn’t. Beliefs evolve and grow, because none of them are perfectly rational, but we want them to be. So we keep tinkering to try and make them perfect. And they just keep getting more complex.

          Bart has explained that in the Roman world, the notion of divine adoption was widespread (as was the idea of gods impregnating mortal women).

          When Christians become adopted by God, they are doing so through Jesus–they are at the very least following his example, treading a path he broke for them.

          So by being the first, even if you don’t believe he’s literally God’s son, he gains a special status that those who follow him don’t have. To this day, we attach a special significance to being first at something (and argue over who is to receive that honor).

          It is, however, a fact that early Christians did believe they could become divine, for centuries after the crucifixion. The line is not all that strongly drawn then between the human and supernatural world. That came later.

        • Alemin
          Alemin  May 18, 2018

          “What a hot mess Christianity was…is…”

          and is to come….. 😉

  9. Avatar
    evanball  April 22, 2018

    John 17.3 seems to separate Jesus from God. Does this conflict with John’s overarching christology? Is it original to John?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 23, 2018

      Yes, it is almost certainly original to John. Thorughout John, even when Christ is said to have a standing equal to God, he is understood to be a being distinct from God (already from the outset: The word was *with* God and the word *was* God).

  10. Avatar
    Peyman  May 5, 2018

    Hi professor Ehrman, did you hear anything about this new discovery of first-century Gospel of Mark.
    what is your comment on it? thanks

    http://www.assistnews.net/index.php/component/k2/item/3744-dr-gary-habermas-confirms-recent-tests-on-a-gospel-of-mark-fragment-possibly-provides-the-oldest-new-testament-manuscript-evidence-available

    • Bart
      Bart  May 6, 2018

      It appears to be bogus, according to the people actually connected with it. Moreover, the whole apologetic claim is bogus. To say that the fragment NOW PROVIDES PROOF that the Gospel of Mark was circulated in teh first century — whom, exactly is this “proof” refuting??? It isn’t confirming anything that everyone already doesn’t think. Who in the universe doesn’t think that Mark’s Gospel was circulating in the first century? So if this fragment were found to be authentic, whose mind would it change? No one’s!

  11. Avatar
    nickms  May 12, 2018

    Professor Ehrman I am struggling to see how the words ” “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” show anything other than a father talking to his son. Could you explain how you read an adoption event into this? Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  May 13, 2018

      The words are a quotaiton of Psalm 2, which is normally taken to be a “coronation” psalm, spoken to the king of Israel at his coronation ceremony. That is when God declares the king to be his “son” — that is, his “adopted” full representative on earth. When applied to Jesus, it would be at his moment of adoption as God’s “son”

  12. Alemin
    Alemin  May 18, 2018

    “only in John did Jesus say such things as “Before Abraham, I am” (8:58; taking upon himself the name of God, as given to Moses in Exodus 3)”

    Bart, I don’t think John 8:58 is a claim on God’s name. John uses the term “ἐγὼ εἰμί”, and most bibles excitedly cross-reference you to Exodus 3:14, but “ἐγὼ εἰμί” isn’t God’s name in Greek. Rather, it’s “ὁ ὤν”. In Ex 3:14 it says “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν”, that is, “I am THE ONE WHO IS”. It’s the second part of this sentence that is the name part, which is why it goes on to say, “Thus you will say to the sons of Israel, ὁ ὤν has sent me to you.”

    This usage is repeated in Revelation when referring to the one who is, was, and is to come – “ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος.”

    • Alemin
      Alemin  June 25, 2018

      Hi Bart, any thoughts on this? (sorry if I’m nagging, but it’s a point you make in your books, and I haven’t seen this ever explained)

      • Bart
        Bart  June 25, 2018

        ο ων is the present active participle masculine nominative singular for ειναι; ειμι is the present active indicative first person singular form for the same verb. εγω ειμι is the emphatic form. It sounds like you know all that. But if you want to say “I am the one who is” you wouldn’t normally (or ever?) say εγω ο ων but εγω ειμι.

        • Alemin
          Alemin  June 27, 2018

          But they did use ‘ὁ ὤν’ in Ex 3:14 LXX to say “I am the one who is”. There it says “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν”, “I am the ‘being-one'”.

          And then it’s not Ἐγώ εἰμι that sent him, but Ὁ ὢν. καὶ εἶπεν Οὕτως ἐρεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς Ἰσραήλ Ὁ ὢν ἀπέσταλκέν με πρὸς ὑμᾶς. “The ‘being-one’ sent you.” I think ‘Ὁ ὢν’ is the name part, that’s used in Ex 3:14 to stand in for YHWH.

          Ἐγώ εἰμι, as used in John 8:58, would generally be translated “I am he/she” or “It is I”.

          2 Kgdms 15:26 – καὶ ἐὰν εἴπῃ οὕτως Οὐκ ἠθέληκα ἐν σοί, ἰδοὺ ἐγώ εἰμι.
          Gospel of Thomas 19:4 – σὺ εἶ μήτηρ τοῦ παιδίου τούτου; ἡ δὲ εἶπεν· ἐγώ εἰμι.
          Judges 11:37 – πορεύσομαι καὶ καταβήσομαι ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη, καὶ κλαύσομαι ἐπὶ τὰ παρθένιά μου, ἐγώ εἰμι καὶ αἱ συνεταιρίδες μου
          John 8:58 εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί. (I’m not sure what he’s trying to say, but I don’t think he’s referring to Ex 3:14. Perhaps it’s merely a claim to pre-existence.)

          • Alemin
            Alemin  June 27, 2018

            (sorry, small correction, in Ex 3:14 Ὁ ὢν stands for אהיה not יהוה, same name different grammatical form)

          • Bart
            Bart  June 27, 2018

            Whatever it was, they took him to be claiming to be god and tried to stone him!

  13. Avatar
    ftbond  May 21, 2018

    why does everybody capitalize “Son” when writing “Son of God”?

    It’s “son of god” or “SON OF GOD” – whatever – but there are no caps in Hebrew or Greek.

    It’s saying “son of God”. A *relationship*. Not a title.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2018

      It’s a title, and titles (Mr. Dr. Prof. etc.) are capitalized. (there also isn’t punctuation in Hebrew or Greek, but we certainly punctuate our Bible translations)

  14. Avatar
    Saleem-Egan  June 4, 2018

    Hi Dr Ehrman,

    Even though John’s christology is higher in status relative to the other synaptic gospels, would you still agree with the idea there are many verses in the gospel of John that doesn’t reaffirm Jesus’ equality with God Himself?

    For example,
    4:21-24 says the people should worship the father (with Jesus differentiating himself as the messiah instead).
    5:37 – No one has seen the father (as Jesus is talking to the crowd). Therefore Jesus isn’t the Father.
    6:65 – Belief in Jesus is only dependent on the Father, not through Jesus.
    12:47-50 – Jesus won’t judge the people if they reject his words but it will be God that will judge the people.
    20:17 – Jesus blatantly admits that he has a God, the same God as the people.
    10:34-36 – These verses are very interesting as the Jews are accusing Jesus of blaspheming when claiming to be God in 10:30. But Jesus then quotes Psalm 82:6 which says that judges were called ‘Gods’ and therefore Jesus is trying to say he is like a ‘God’ in the Psalm sense but not in the literal Yahweh sense.

    Therefore could you not make the argument that the gospel of John paints a very human like Jesus with some divinity but far from equality with God the Father?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 5, 2018

      Yes indeed! That’s the whole basis for my understanding of John — different portions come from different sources with different Christologies.

      • Avatar
        Saleem-Egan  June 5, 2018

        So how can the later Christians get the idea so wrong? They claim as per the Trinity that Jesus is co equal to God when there’s hardly any verses or evidences in the New Testament to reaffirm this position. Isn’t it obvious that Jesus is not Yahweh?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 7, 2018

          I’m not saying the view is wrong. I’m saying it is not the original view of the earliest Christians.

  15. Avatar
    JayinHK  July 2, 2018

    Could the references in the Syoptics that lead you to believe Jesus was considered divine be later edits, like the references you cite in Orthodox Corruption of Scripture?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2018

      There’s no manuscript evidence to suggest they are. They appear to be original to the text.

      • Avatar
        JayinHK  July 6, 2018

        I just came across this quote in my notes. I can’t remember if I plucked it from one of your books or not. I have an inkling it’s in Robin Lane Fox’s Epic History of Greece & Rome.

        If God wishes that no god be worshiped, why do you worship his bastard Son? Neither Paul nor Matthew nor Luke nor Mark dared to call Jesus ‘God’.
        ~Emperor Julian the Apostate, Contra Galilaeos

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