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My Debate This Past Weekend

I just returned yesterday from a two-day event in New Orleans involving a public debate with an Australian New Testament scholar named Michael Bird, who is the author of The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians, and Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message.  To explain the situation, I need to give some background.   As most readers on the blog know, a couple of years ago I published my book How Jesus Became God.  This was my attempt to show how it is that the man Jesus, an apocalyptic preacher from a remote area of rural Galilee, came to be considered the second member of the Trinity, God the creator, who had always existed, who was fully equal with the God of the universe, who was in fact of the same “essence” as him.  How’d that happen exactly?

Also as many of you know, a group of evangelical scholars learned I was writing the book, and decided, even before they had seen it (!), that they wanted to write a response to it in order to correct its misperceptions.  They were afraid, I suppose, that I might lead someone astray.  And so they asked my publisher if I would share a draft of my book with them so they could write essays addressing my various points.  Both my publisher and I thought it was an interesting idea, to have a response book appear not a year or two later, but on the very same day of publication.  So we went ahead with it.   The evangelical scholars wrote up (rather quickly) their responses, and it came out under the title (to no one’s surprise, even though it’s clever) How God Became Jesus.  The editor of the volume, and contributor of two of its essays, was Michael Bird.

And so a debate was set up this past weekend, between Michael and me, on the question “How Did Jesus Become God?”   It was held as this year’s “Greer-Heard Forum” (named after the two who fund the forum every year) at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.  Now that is not a place that you might normally expect me to speak.  NOBTS is an extremely conservative evangelical theological school that focuses on training Southern Baptist ministers and educators.  I doubt if they would call themselves fundamentalists, since, so far as I can tell, no one seems to call themselves fundamentalist (a fundamentalist is always the guy to the right of you, wherever you happen to be standing); but they are certainly conservative evangelical.   The professors there all have to sign a statement of faith that says, among other things, that the Bible is completely inerrant – no mistakes, of any kind, whatsoever.

Even though it is extraordinarily…

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Daniel Wallace’s most popular books are Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament and Reinventing Jesus.

Dale B. Martin’s most popular books are Biblical Truths: The Meaning of Scripture in the Twenty-first Century and Sex and the Single Savior.   

Jennifer Knust’s most popular books are To Cast the First Stone and Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity.

The Son of God, the Council of Nicea, and the Da Vinci Code
Drew Marshall Show – How Jesus Became God



  1. Avatar
    Hon Wai  February 15, 2016

    Do you know if the video or audio recording of debate will be posted online? If Martin & Knust agree, it would be great if you can post their papers on your blog.

  2. Avatar
    spiker  February 15, 2016


    Any chance we’d be able to see video?.

  3. Avatar
    JonH  February 15, 2016

    I watched most of the event this weekend online and thoroughly enjoyed it. I am glad you do these events, and I am impressed that the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary is willing to host an event like this. At the beginning, the host described the impetus for the event and said the donors wanted pastors to hear and understand the best points of their critics, and to know how to respond to them. That is a noble purpose.

    What usually strikes me about these events is just how much the conservative scholars actually agree with you. I understand why the conservative scholars wouldn’t want to antagonize the (presumably inerrantist) audience by revealing that they agree with some of your points that undermine the inerrantist position, but I wonder if the audience notices this?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      Yeah, I wondered what the audience was getting out of it too….

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 15, 2016

    Sounds wonderful, with friendly discussions among experts and a friendly audience! I’m eager for the follow-up posts.

    BTW, I took a Great Courses course of Amy Jill Levine’s a few years back, and I remember her saying some university wouldn’t allow her to specialize in the New Testament because she’s Jewish. Appalling!

  5. Garrett20
    Garrett20  February 15, 2016

    Thanks for info. I was unable to watch the debate, but I am sure it will be posted on YouTube later?

    For what it is worth, I know some evangelical Christians who speak very highly of your character. I do appreciate your passion and respect during debates; you can certainly sense your professionalism. Even as a Christian, I do not sense this from some people you have debated.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      Yes, it’s available. I will probably load it up on the blog as well.

  6. Avatar
    Jim  February 15, 2016

    It was awesome that NOBTS streamed the whole event live, and subsequently made it Youtube available.

    I’m still struggling though, with how possible is it to determine the level of Christology of the early Jerusalem community. Is there any way to differentiate whether the high Christology found in the pre-Pauline Phil 2 creed likely originated from within the early Jerusalem community of Jewish Jesus followers, rather than say a more Hellenistic community of Jesus followers like those of Antioch and/or Damascus (who were more likely to be influenced by Roman colonial mimicry/symbolism)? Does this Philippians passage read like it may have been originally composed in Greek, or does it betray any signs of Aramaic origins?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      It was definitely composed in Greek. It’s a very interesting passage. I try to explain it in my book How Jesus Became God.

  7. Avatar
    toejam  February 15, 2016

    Ooooh. I really hope this debate makes its way online sometime. I assume it was filmed like the ones with Dan Wallace and Craig Evans?

  8. Avatar
    Omar6741  February 15, 2016

    Can I ask who you think are the three to four evangelical scholars who you consider to be most worth reading, despite your disagreements with them?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      You might try Craig Evans, Charles Hill, Darrell Bock, or Craig Keener.

      • Avatar
        sinetheo  February 16, 2016

        I like how you got Darrell all speechless and panicked on the radio when he mentioned lots of ancient Jews in the 1st century could read and write and you asked for proof. 🙂

        Great debate. Craig Evan’s knew he lost because he made 3 separate videos refuting you made for Evangelicals. At this point I do not know of any Evangelical scholor who I can take seriously. Perhaps I came to your conclusion as it now makes sense. Especially if Paul didn’t write Timothy or Titus to me was the last blow.

        I suppose Bruce Daniel’s at least admits scriptural corruption even if he says it is not a big deal

  9. Avatar
    Stephen  February 15, 2016

    Prof Ehrman

    I was able to access the live stream and watch a good bit of the event and I enjoyed it very much. I was impressed by the collegiality of the participants who obviously hold quite opposing viewpoints. I was reminded of the issue this week with the news of the death of Justice Scalia. It turns out that he and Justice Ginsburg were huge friends even though they held very different political philosophies. I find it sad that people were somewhat shocked at that. We’ve got to the point unfortunately where the assumption seems to be that anyone who has fundamental political or religious disagreements must automatically hate each other’s guts. I understand you do get a negative response from some quarters but I appreciate your willingness to engage with them. I am somewhat involved in the atheist community (such as it is) and I realize some of my more polemical fellows can often be insufferable but I encourage you to take whatever opportunities make themselves available to you to speak to this community. We need your voice.


  10. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  February 16, 2016

    When you put it like that, it sounds exhausting.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      Yeah I was pretty wiped out. Luckily, that night we did just dinner and jazz!

  11. Avatar
    sinetheo  February 16, 2016

    Hey Bart.

    Have you thought about doing a debate the other way around where a conservative Evangelical goes to Chapel Hill to debate you nd takes on questions from your students and audience members? I think that kind of debate would be new and fresh idea

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      I’ve debated both Daniel Wallace and Dinesh D’Souza here in Chapel Hill. Both were pretty interesting debates.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 16, 2016

    I look forward to hearing more. Those interested might google “The Greer-Heard Debate on Jesus’ Divinity with Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird” on the Patheos blog. It lasts about 2 hours and 45 minutes so one might want to listen to it in parts.

    I really struggle with trying to grasp why people would sign a statement that the Bible is inerrant when there is overwhelming evidence that this is not so. Doesn’t this lead to people discounting whatever else these inerrancy advocates have to say, hence, weakening their message???

    For those interested, Dr. Levine has some really good Teaching Company Great Courses available on the Great Courses website, but buy them when they go on sale. .

  13. Avatar
    Prizm  February 16, 2016

    I just noticed the debate is on YouTube, so I look forward to checking it out. I came across Dale Martin’s NT Yale lectures on YouTube a few years back (when I first deconverted) and really enjoyed them. I might have to look him up again. I didn’t realize until recently that you guys were acquainted.

    Can I make a suggestion regarding your Facebook posts: Is it possible for the occasional post to be fully readable by the public, rather than always members only? I can never share your posts because my christian acquaintances (90% of my Facebook friends) would never subscribe anyway.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 16, 2016

      Yes, I do make (already) one post a week fully available to everyone, both here on the blog and on Facebook.

  14. Avatar
    mary  February 16, 2016

    I saw most of the debate. It was quite a view into a Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I try to keep an open mind and listen for points of information that are reasonable, logical and/or probable, that contradict your writings and point of view. Alas, I have neither heard or seen any as of yet.

    I found the final question and answer session most interesting. It clarified for me what “Theology” covers and is from the answers of the panelists.

    Thanks for allowing the access into that academia.

  15. Avatar
    Judith  February 16, 2016

    “Given the nature of the audience …it was no surprise that most of the questions … were directed to me rather than Michael.”
    Michael did not seem to understand it that way. He had to remind the audience that he was there, too. Maybe those with questions for you were very interested and wanted to know more.

  16. Avatar
    benjack  February 16, 2016

    It’s available on another Youtube channel for those impatient to watch: https://youtu.be/gg4Tc1j4Qwo

  17. Avatar
    bigalster  February 16, 2016

    My old prof,a Luthernan pastor with (MS Theol) that i have a running debate with for years, disputes your contention in the last debate,that the early Christians did not think of Jesus as God. He says you are WRONG.He cites the works of Hurtado,Gieschen &Bauckham,etc and that these early christian followers already started believing(that Jesus was God) much earlier in NT,and not what you claim, only during the Nicea Council. He claims you are liberal and that you are not doing an historical analysis(as you claim) but a poor man’s theology. How would you respond to these accusations?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 17, 2016

      But I *DO* think the earliest Christians thought Jesus was God. That’s my whole argument!

  18. Avatar
    kentvw  February 17, 2016

    I really enjoyed the “dialog” between you and Michael Bird. He is quite the character and I appreciated his sense of humor.
    One thing that struck me was in the prayer before the debate by Dr. Chuck Kelley. In his prayer he was speaking of non-believers as, “Utterly opposed to all you stand for.” and, “Absolutely opposed to all that you are and all that you have created us to be.”

    Not to put words in the fellows mouth but I took it to mean anyone who does not believe in the bible stories and who does not believe in a biblical type of God is opposed to things like love, faith, virtue, caring, empathy, joy, peace, patience, kindness, mercy, wisdom, generosity….. etc., etc.

    I find that to be very disheartening, even though I understand that from their perspective I represent the enemy no matter how I try and live my life or what I do with it.

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