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My Doubts about the Son of God: A Blast from the Past

Here’s a post I made six years ago, when just starting to think about what I would do in my book How Jesus Became God, where I recount a rather emotional experience of starting to doubt my faith.

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When I attended Moody Bible Institute in the mid 1970s, every student was required, every semester, to do some kind of Christian ministry work.   Like all of my fellow students I was completely untrained and unqualified to do the things I did, but I think Moody believed in on-the-job training.   And so every student had to have one semester where, for maybe 2-3 hours one afternoon a week, they would engage in “door-to-door evangelism.”  That involved being transported to some neighborhood in Chicago, knocking on doors, trying to strike up a conversation, get into the homes, and convert people.  A fundamentalist version of the Mormon missionary thing, also carried out two-by-two.

One semester I was a late-night counselor on the Moody Christian radio station.  People would call up with questions about the Bible or with problems in their lives, and I would, well, give them all the answers.  I was all of 18.  One semester I was a chaplain one afternoon a week at Cook County Hospital.  Completely out of my depth with that one.

When I was a senior (it was a three year degree program), my roommate and I decided…

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Very Funny…
The Protestant Obsession with Origins

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    roger  March 17, 2019

    There are many theologians who believe Jesus was a man ,Dale Tuggy and Daniel Kirk just to name two , and for fun read Dale Allison. My second point is that Calvinists love the book of Romans but as Douglas A Campbell has shown Romans was read aloud and many things in it he was quoting an opponent so it is a dialogue …one of the many reasons to throw double predestination out. And last I am agnostic about afterlife but theologians always mean the short term when they talk about resurrection and such. I read an article “Why you really don’t want to live forever ” from the Huffington Post and Immortality by Stephen Cave particularly the end on do we want immortality really and lost a lot of the dread of death. Also a chapter on afterlife in “Bitten by A Camel” by Kevin Dobson. I hope it helps

  2. Avatar
    Cliffschilke  March 18, 2019

    In light of your recent discussion at Carol Woods retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I found this blog to be very interesting.

    Last week, at Carol Woods, you discussed your recent book “The Triumph of Christianity” and offered your opinion that the reasons why pagans converted to Christianity had to do with “miracles”. Or more specifically that they believed that stories regarding “miracles” told to them by Christians convinced them of the fundamental truth of the central primitive Christian teaching regarding Jesus, his relationship to God and the necessity for accepting his death and Resurrection as the way to avoid punishment for their sins in an afterlife.

    I found your reasons not persuasive. The blog does not permit me to give you the many reasons I think so.

    Suffice it to say, I think you have underestimated the real power of the Christian community and its impact on the life of people who participated in the community. Yes the Christians met in secret. But they lived the rest of their lives with the other people in their community. And what they experienced in the Christian community most certainly had a profound and positive impact, at least for some of them, on how they related to other people outside of the community. This must have been the case unless you wish to maintain that the experience in secret of a community of love and mutual regard and support had nothing at all to do with how Christians behaved toward other people in their daily lives.

    This is why this blog is so interesting. You have given us a moving example from your own life of the power of loving behavior. Pastor Goranson was not all that interested in theology and he did not appear to answer some very difficult questions you had about Christian beliefs. You were not and are not moved by his ideas regarding Christian faith. You were moved and apparently remained moved by his example of Christian love.

    What is true for you was most certainly true for pagans 2000 years ago.

    Cliffschilke

  3. Avatar
    Joel Smith  March 18, 2019

    Jesus said he spoke the words that a God gave him to speak & did what God commanded him to do. He qualifies statements like “I and the Father are one” (being one with God) by clarifying that God is greater than he is. He did say that God dwelled in him & spoke through him though. What do you call someone who speaks the words of God? A Prophet?
    Jesus never called himself the Son of God (others certainly did). He mostly called himself the Son of Man. In Ezekiel 2 this term is defined as a Prophet. In the OT both David & Solomon are called Anointed & Sons of God. The nation also is the Son of God.
    The claim that Jesus was a king got him executed.
    In the Greek culture, a son of god is literally a son of Zeus.

  4. Avatar
    HawksJ  March 18, 2019

    ‘Then I asked him, “But what if Jesus never said that?”’

    Dr. Ehrman, do you think we have ANY (even nearly) verbatim, word-for-word quotes from Jesus?

    What are some of the sayings that you are confident are the closest to verbatim quotes of things he actually said, and why do you feel that they are?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2019

      Yes, I think we have some of his sayings. Mark 1:15 I think is very close to his basic message; and a number of Markan and Q sayings/parables almost certainly go back to him. I give a bunch of them in my book on Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet.

  5. Avatar
    ftbond  March 23, 2019

    Just for grins: Let’s just say that a human being is a being created by God, and comprised of a body and a spirit. The body is a “created thing” – it is *not* “the Creator” (God). And, likewise, the spirit that indwells that human being is *also* a “created thing” – it also is *not* “the Creator”. Thus, we have this human being as a wholly “created” thing.

    Now, (and this is all for grins), let’s just say God creates a human body (a created thing), but instead of giving that created body a created spirit, God Himself – God, a “spirit” – indwells that created, human body. A created body, indwelt with the spirit of the Creator Himself.

    Is that body therefore “divine”? Or is that spirit (God’s own spirit) divine? How does one explain how, or even if there is a separation of the divine from the “profane” (ie, the created body)?

    This is the difficulty of figuring out which “label” to put on Jesus. Was “Jesus” divine? That is, was the whole of the combination of a “profane” body, plus the (clearly) “divine spirit” somehow divine in it’s totality? Or, is this a case of somehow, this person (Jesus) being *both* “human” (profane) and divine (the Creator)?

    “Was Jesus divine?” doesn’t get a “yes or no” answer.

    What truly, deeply amazes me that someone can have an education in theology and never once realize that the question is *not* a “yes or no” question. One can hardly read the NT without realizing the “struggle” there is, evident in it’s pages, to somehow convey that a person (Jesus) could bodily be fully human, with every human limitation, capable of suffering and death, and having to use the same human “mechanism” or “method” of communing with God the Spirit (ie, prayer) as every other human, yet at the same time, being fully God (in being indwelt by the spirit of the Creator, and not a created spirit). And, the even bigger struggle is that in Jewish thought, these two things (body and spirit) were *equally* parts of a “human being” – thus – there really *isn’t* a separation at all.

    At best, the question “Was Jesus divine” doesn’t have a “yes or no” answer – it has a “yes *and* no” answer (followed by a lengthy explanation).

  6. Avatar
    cristianp  March 27, 2019

    Dear Bart, many graces for sharing a mixture of details of his personal life and his academic preparation.
    According to John 10:34 Jesus, apparently, quotes the book of Psalms. What is the conflict? I think the problem is that for generations the God of Michelangelo’s paintings has been considered, that is, a Lord with character and personality, sitting in some legano place of some distant dimension, and demanding that they obey and adore him. I think that concept is very similar to the one Jesus faced in Palestine

  7. Avatar
    Joel Smith  April 26, 2019

    Jesus said: God is greater than I am.
    He also didn’t claim to be the Son of God.
    He didn’t much seem to like being called Christ.

  8. Avatar
    joot  January 2, 2020

    Matthew 16:13-20 New International Version (NIV)
    Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
    13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

    14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

    15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

    16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

    Doesn’t the verse above answered who Jesus really is? The above question is the same question we are asking today what Jesus really is. To me, he is the messiah. Nothing more nothing less.

  9. Avatar
    BlackSheepinWhitesSheepsClothing  February 5, 2020

    Thank you for this post. I know that this “what if jesus never said that?” conversation is coming for me. I truthfully don’t know if I can have it, as the pastor in my situation, is my own father.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 6, 2020

      Ah, tread carefully and with love, with a view to matters of greater importance!

  10. Avatar
    billsturm  February 28, 2020

    Good Evening, Bart,
    Are you sure Jesus “claimed to be God” in the Gospel of John? In the interest of full disclosure, I am an evangelical. I am refreshingly able to cling to the text in my pulpit and I have equally conservative (theologically, morally, politically, etc…) folks for whose souls I care who seem to feel as though I do it well.

    This is not a trap. I have read a couple of your books and have three more I am working through.

    Sincerely,
    Bill

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2020

      Well, pretty much. I and the Father are one. Before Abraham was I Am. If you have seen me you have seen the Father. Etc…. Maybe try my book How Jesus Became God?

      • Avatar
        billsturm  March 2, 2020

        Dear Bart,
        I have written three paragraphs about this. Would you mind if I pasted them here for your critique?

        Bill

        • Bart
          Bart  March 3, 2020

          I may not be able to give a sustained critique, but I’m sure everyone would benefit from your thoughts.

          • Avatar
            billsturm  March 3, 2020

            [A source I can provide] says “…the early church developed a ‘Trinitarian’ consciousness…As the doctrine of the Trinity developed, the practice of baptizing [according to Matthew’s formula] was increasingly understood.” Well, a couple of follow-on questions: 1. Who is the early church?; 2. Did they really understand it before they formalized it? Why continue with strange “formulas” from the “Tertullians” of church history, centuries removed from the “early church”—the church of Acts?

            With all the discussions on terminology, why can orthodoxy not say something to the affect of “Jesus was so much like God the Father that He was seen as One with Him—thus being called, at times ‘God’ (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6), and being called, at other times ‘Father’ (Isaiah 9:6)?” Why develop hard to understand formulas of this mystery while vilifying the opposition? Why not simply say only what Scripture says?

            It seems fitting, then, to say that God the Father and His Son are so close to one another in source and resulting light that One can call the Son “Father” or “God” from time to time and it is essentially correct. God’s very essence is stamped on the Person of Jesus Christ. He that saw Jesus saw God (John 14:9). Nobody saw God at all, except Jesus Who revealed Him to them (John 1:18). In Christ was the bodily version of the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9). There was nothing but full manifestation of God in the person of Jesus (Hebrews 1:3) to the point that Jesus was at times called “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6) and was furthermore the reality that God was with man (Isaiah 7:14). If one wished to see God, they must look at Jesus. In so finding Jesus, they would find God, of Whose image Jesus bore (Colossians 1:15). All of this can be summed up in this manner, if you wanted to see God again after the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), you had to see Him first in the face of His Dear Son (2 Corinthians 4:6). Yet, saying anything more than this is dangerous, divisive and presumptuous. May God grant the author and the reader of this paper to major on Christ’s divinity, His origin, His Person, and leave the dogmatic explanations of “full God,” “same essence,” “same substance,” and the like, to the first order of eternity where God will have only begun to reveal His Person to the redeemed.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 4, 2020

            Thanks — this is very well thought out and thoughtful.

  11. Avatar
    billsturm  March 5, 2020

    Dear Bart,
    Thank you. That carries a ton of weight for me. Now, perhaps you can see why I do not see statements of Jesus “claiming deity” as potentially an overstatement. I do believe, based on my thoughts above, the statements you cited are rather Jesus “claiming divinity.”

    So…what’s less than deity and yet divine? Not sure I can say. I do believe–no surprise to you–the Gospel of John, but I do not necessarily think Jesus would have passed the bar at Nicaea (Johannine claims to divinity yet drawing short of Athanasian dogma).

    Thank you again,
    Bill

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