2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 52 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5 (2 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

Jesus as the Adopted Son of God

I would like to devote several posts – maybe half a dozen – to issues that I deal with in How Jesus Became God that represent new insights that I had while doing the research. In most instances these are changes in what I used to think. (Scholars who never change their minds about something are the ones you the ones you need to look out for!) I’ve never written a trade book where that was the case before (although it happens all the time in doing a serious research monograph). By my count, this is the thirteenth trade book I’ve written, and in virtually every case (I can’t think of an exception) my research either was almost completely done before I even proposed writing the book (e.g., for my book on the Da Vinci Code, or for Misquoting Jesus) or the research simply rounded out what I pretty much already thought (e.g., Lost Christianities or Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene). These books, in other words, are different from scholarly books entirely because of the packaging involved; in none of them was I trying to advance or change scholarship.

That is completely different from what happened in the case of How Jesus Became God. In this case, I learned a *lot* in doing my research for the book. And I changed my mind about (some highly) significant things. In these posts I’ll explain what some of those things were.

To do so, my plan is to state what my older view was, and then to include the chunk from the book where I state my new view. I start with a key issue: what did it mean to say that Jesus was “adopted” by God to be his son (as the earliest “exaltation” Christologies maintained).


FOR THE REST OF THIS POST, log in as a Member. If you don’t belong yet, YOU MAY LIVE TO REGRET IT!!!

You need to be logged in to see this part of the content. Please Login to access.

The God Augustus
Why It Matters



  1. Avatar
    Adam0685  April 3, 2014

    How do you interpret μονογενῆ in John 3:16?

  2. Avatar
    bamurray  April 3, 2014

    Very interesting! I hope as you continue in this line of posts that you will discuss (a) how both your old and new views line up against mainstream scholarly opinion and (b) whether your change of opinion results from your reexamination of existing scholarship, new research, or both. (In this case, apparently it was, at least in large part, from new research, yes?)

  3. Avatar
    Mikail78  April 3, 2014

    Hey Bart, you probably don’t care about this, but I’ve started reading “How God Became Jesus” , which, as you know, is the response towards your book. So far, I find authors’ tone towards you to be childish, unprofessional, and unscholarly. That’s just what I think. Feel free to read it for yourself. You may disagree.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      Yes, I read it before it wsa published. I may comment on it in a series of posts….

      • Avatar
        Lee  April 3, 2014

        please do. it would be informative to see. thank you thank you.

      • Avatar
        z8000783  April 4, 2014

        It sounds like they say a number of things that will need a response.

        Will you be doing anything officially? I mean, outside of this site.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 4, 2014

          Probably nothing official. There will be a review session on my book at the annual Society of Biblical Literature meeting, and I’ll be replying to comments there. But if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to address, let me know.

          • Avatar
            z8000783  April 5, 2014

            Thanks Bart, will do.

            I haven’t finished your book yet or read theirs, so will get back to you then if there’s anything that pops up.

  4. Avatar
    Mikail78  April 3, 2014

    Oh, and congratulations on your twitter account!

  5. Avatar
    JBSeth1  April 3, 2014

    Hi Bart,

    I think I must be missing something here. I’ve read several of your previous books and presently I’m reading your latest, “How Jesus Became God” (another great book, by the way) but so far I’m only on page 80 or so.

    This is the first time I think I’ve ever heard someone say that, Jesus was the “adopted” by God, to be his son.
    I’ll admit that I’m not as knowledgeable on the New Testament as I could be but I don’t ever recall reading anything that indicates that Jesus was the “adopted” son of God. Could you give us a little background on where this idea comes from?



  6. Avatar
    Sharif  April 3, 2014

    VERY interesting!

    Is it possible that some “adoptionist” Jewish-Christians (e.g. Ebionites) retained an ancient Jewish view of divine sonship that did not exalt Jesus in this way, i.e. in fact maintained that he *was* the Son of God just in the sense of being especially honored and loved by God?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      It’s possible!

      • Avatar
        Arlyn  April 4, 2014

        Was an adoptionist theology a distinction of the Gospel of the Hebrews?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 4, 2014

          We don’t really have enough of the Gospel of the Hebrews to know for sure, but it doesn’t look like it.

          • Avatar
            Arlyn  April 6, 2014

            From the Wiki posting on Adoptionism

            “The phrase “Son of God” is not present in some early manuscripts at Mark 1:1.[9] Ehrman uses this omission to support the notion that the title “Son of God” is not used of Jesus until his baptism, and that Mark reflects an adoptionist view. The words, “Today I have begotten you,” are omitted from the canonical Gospel of Mark, however, and it is therefore generally believed to have less adoptionist tendencies than the Gospel of the Hebrews.[4″

            I’m left slightly perplexed.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 6, 2014

            Yes, I’m perplexed as well. My views are only those in the sentence in which my name occurs. The final sentence is not connected to me and is not what I think.

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  April 3, 2014

    I am very interested in reading more about how you changed your views in researching this book. I think your willingness to change your views with evidence is one of your best features. I have already read this section about adoption in your book, but it was very helpful to read it again in this post. Keep going.

  8. Avatar
    stephena  April 3, 2014

    Of course the problem with all this speculation is that even the Adoptionists of the Second Century were spoken of with contempt, solely because they thought Jesus WAS a “mere” human man whom God adopted – just as Trinitarians would say to folks (like me, BTW) who believe Jesus was a non-eternal, fully human Being “adopted” by God as His Son.

    Nowhere in early Church history was there a large movement (to my knowledge) of folks arguing that Jesus “BECAME God, by Adoption” (and I must preemptively note that this is not the same as Arianism, in which Jesus was viewed a pre-existent semi-divine Being LESSER than God, and held that status since the world’s creation.)

    In a sense, Jesus BECOMING equal to God by Adoption would have been perhaps a rather elegant theory that may have preempted and/or later supplanted the much more complex Trinitarian theory, but it clearly didn’t happen. And I also believe this would have been unacceptable to Jews, who saw NO human as ever being the equal of Yahweh, so it fails that fundamental test, the Shema, which Trinitarianism also violates.

    Doesn’t the record of the Gospels and Acts show a rather clearer and simpler adoption pattern in which Jesus was “approved by God” and “grew in wisdom” and was “chosen by God” to be a prophet and spokesman, all pointing to a “mere” human man being adopted by God occurring because of his righteousness and wisdom, much as the earlier Hebrew prophets had been – in fact, Anointed by God in the same manner as earlier prophets and men chosen by God?

    So where on earth does this theory come from, Dr. Ehrman?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      I guess you’ll need to read my book! (And yes, the adoptionists were attacked by *others*. But they in turn attacked the others. And they were not spoken badly of by people who were like minded!)

  9. Avatar
    SJB  April 3, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    There must have been dissenting views though, right? How else to explain groups like the Ebionites at least some of whom apparently considered Jesus a human prophet and not divine?


    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      When it comes to early Christianity, it’s always safe to say that there were dissenting views….

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 3, 2014

    I have to post a Comment regarding your section, in the book, about “bereavement visions.” I’ve actually had such an experience – contact with my deceased mother, that I believe was real, in one or more dreams. Personally, I place more trust in this type of dream than I would in a waking “vision.” But I wouldn’t expect anyone else to do so.

    My mother (who was 40 when I was born) died of natural causes in her mid-90s. We’d had a wonderful relationship: not just mother and daughter, but truly best friends. But in the months after her death, I struggled with guilt feelings – for a strange reason. Whenever she appeared in one of my dreams, I instantly thought – in the dream – “This is wrong! Mom can’t be here, she’s dead!” Then I’d immediately wake up. I knew these were just “normal” dreams – I wasn’t rejecting my real mother – but I still had guilt feelings.

    Then, about eight months after her death, I had a dream that was different. I wasn’t upset on seeing her. She told me she had died…but was still, in another sense, alive. And then *Mom* let me hold a *baby*. I understood, in the dream, that she was about to reincarnate – possibly at that very moment – and this baby was her next incarnation. I was sure the baby was a girl, and would, hopefully, be reunited with a new male incarnation of my long-dead father. I also had a glimpse of a younger woman, who I guessed was the baby’s mother.

    In the dream, Mom and I embraced – our abdomens in contact – and I was very conscious of her body warmth. Almost as if she was trying to give some of it to me…

    After that date, I never again reacted badly to encountering Mom in “normal” dreams.

    But something else happened.

    When I woke in the morning after having that dream, I had “gas pains.” I was sure that was what they were…but I imagined they might be coinciding with labor pains being experienced by the mother of Mom’s new incarnation.

    It turned out, however, that they weren’t “gas pains.” They were the first symptoms of a very severe illness. I almost died – did in fact flatline and have to be resuscitated, when a surgeon was about to perform exploratory surgery. I later learned he’d thought I had only one chance in ten of surviving – and if I did survive, I’d probably be brain-damaged and never regain consciousness. But here I am, alive and reasonably well, many years later.

    I’ve always believed that when Mom embraced me in that dream, she gave me some of her strength…and that’s why I pulled through.

  11. Avatar
    gsteidley  April 3, 2014

    Was this higher status for the adopted just a Roman practice… or was it derived from Greek practice? Perhaps the virgin birth and subsequent adoption by Joseph was a way of demonstrating a higher status for Jesus to the Hellenistic Jews and gentiles. It would put him a step above the blood descendents in the Davidic line.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      I’m not as familiar with Greek practice. The problem with the virgin birth stories is obviously that it prevents Jesus from *being* in the blood line of the kings going back to David….

  12. Avatar
    JamesFouassier  April 3, 2014

    But isn’t this concept of adoption unique to Roman society ? How did it carry over into Greek or Jewish society ? Are there models in other societies that would lend validity to the conclusion that ALL Christians – or at least a significant number of them – looked upon adopted sons in the same exalted way ?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 3, 2014

      Yes, it carried over into other parts of the Empire as well, not just Roman citizens.

  13. Avatar
    EricBrown  April 3, 2014

    Fascinating. I understood that about the roman practice, never occurred to me among the Jews of the same era. I presume your research gives you confidence that this practice and viewpoint, clearly in place in the Latin West, was also normative in the Greek East? Among Hellenized Jews?

  14. Avatar
    SteveLig  April 3, 2014

    Jesus’ family was neither elite nor Roman (nor Greek). Would the same ideas apply in a Jewish context? Or were those attributing adoption to Jesus more outside of Judaism than in?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 4, 2014

      My sense is that this was the general understanding of the “adoption” of an adult son.

  15. Avatar
    Wilusa  April 4, 2014

    I’m past this point in your book now. I’d been wondering on what details you’d changed your mind while researching it! Didn’t realize there was a change of mind here.

    I know your and others’ studying these matters, and telling the rest of us what the history of Christianity was really like, is *very* important. But – being well into the competing “orthodoxies” now – I’m flabbergasted that intelligent men, two thousand years ago, were devoting their lives to fretting over notions like these. Like the old “how many angels can fit on the head of a pin” line.

    I remember, from my school years, one nun actually telling us *why* we should believe something. Here was her “proof” that the doctrine of the Trinity was divinely revealed: “It appears to make no sense at all; therefore, humans wouldn’t have thought it up.”

  16. Avatar
    kidron  April 4, 2014

    It is possible that Paul might have understood the Roman concept of adoption, but I think the Jewish faction of the followers would be more familiar with their Jewish heritage where God adopted David as his son. The verses in the Old Testament certainly do not imply that David was elevated to a divine status on a par with God.

    2 Samuel 7:14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:

    verse 17
    According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.

    1 Chronicles 17:13 I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee:
    verse 15 According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak unto David.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 6, 2014

      Yes, they certainly knew these passages! But the question is how they would *understand* them. My guess is that they would understand adoption in light of how adoption worked in their own world.

  17. Avatar
    prairieian  April 6, 2014

    Very interesting insight that rings true. I have previously noted the cultural milieu that would see Jesus as a man becoming a god in a manner analogus to that of the emperors. In other words, and I gather you think this likely, having Jesus become God was in the air as it were. 🙂

    This angle on adoption also links into Roman cultural norms as you describe, and again would make the point that Jesus as an adopted son is inheriting everything from and through God.

    An important reminder to pay attention to cultural norms of the time rather than our all too human practice of anachronistic thinking or non-thinking.

    Good post.

  18. Avatar
    asjsdpjk  April 7, 2014

    Does ths adoptionist view mean that Jesus would be the succesor of god?

  19. cheito
    cheito  April 7, 2014

    DR Ehrman:

    In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the Word was God.
    The beginning John is referring to here is when no other beings existed except God and the Word. Subsequently the Word became flesh. Before becoming “flesh” Jesus was already exalted.
    He was God the Word. When Jesus was God the Word the notion of adoption did not exist.
    How did the Word become the Word?

    Paul in Phillipians 2:6 stated that Jesus existed in the form of God.
    When did He exist in the form of God?
    Obviously before he became Jesus.
    Note what Paul declares:

    PHILLIPIANS 2:5-Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6-who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7-but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8-Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9-For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10-so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11-and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

    Final comment: Jesus was not always a mere man!

    in Paul’s own words: God highly exalted Jesus because although He existed in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7-but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

  20. Avatar
    Mohy  April 10, 2014

    i received your book yesterday it took 15 days to reach Cairo.
    still did not read it, my question is why KJV translators put the word begotten, instead of unique if what you are saying is right ( the adopted son is more important than the begotten son)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 10, 2014

      It’s based on an old mis-understanding of the Greek, in which the word MONOGENES is wrongly thought to be related to GENNAW (born or begotten) rather than GINOMAI (being).

You must be logged in to post a comment.