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New Boxes on Jesus as God in the NT

Here are two more “boxes” that will now appear in the sixth edition of my New Testament textbook.   If you’ve read my recent book, How Jesus Became God, you’ll see that both of these boxes are based on views that I develop at length there.   One of the tricks in writing a textbook is figuring out how to say something in a way that is succinct and interesting, when there is not much space to cover a topic fully  (so, my first box here covers in 326 words what I take an entire chapter to develop in my book!)   The problem is that sometimes the coverage is so succinct that it is no longer accurate and / or interesting.  It’s always a balancing act.

In any event, here are the two boxes.

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 Box 19.2  What Do You Think?

Humans Exalted to Heaven at the End of Their Lives

 What do you imagine the early Christians would think had happened to Jesus once they came to believe that he had not only been raised from the dead but had been exalted to heaven into the presence of God?  It might help to reflect on what ancient people generally seemed to have thought about mortals taken up to the divine realm at the end of their lives.

In the pagan tradition, the answer was clear: such a person was…

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New Boxes: Oral traditions and the Dates of the Gospels

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    shuhan  October 28, 2014

    This is very confusing Dr. Ehrman. I thought the early disciples of Jesus thought he wasn’t God. If the last translation is correct then does this mean that Paul and the rest of Jesus’s disciples believed that he was God? I read your latest book, but seems to me that your views changed a bit. Do Christian oral traditions support that theory? I wonder how different was Papias’ theology compared to other Christian scholars of his time. Please help 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      Ah, you need to read my book How Jesus Became God!! I argue there that the followers of Jesus came to think of him as divine soon after coming to think he had been raised from the dead.

  2. Avatar
    John123  October 28, 2014

    Bart,

    The current NRSV translation does not match either of your translations and seems to be a very reasonable third way. Here it is: “…from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.”

    What do you think of this translation? It does not seem to be saying that Jesus is God; it seems to be saying that Jesus is “over all” (i.e., has full control over everything). This would be consistent with 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 where Jesus appears to have full control over everything for a limited period of time and then God will be back in full control: Christ “hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he [Christ] has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24) and “when all things are subjected to him [Christ], then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him [i.e. God], so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). According to David Hay and Larry Hurtado, “…This passage does not depict a sharing of government by two monarchs but rather presents the exalted Christ in such a way that one might call him a divine plenipotentiary holding absolute sway for a limited period” (One God, One Lord (2005), pg. 96). The same idea seems to be in mind with the Elect One/Son of Man in 1 Enoch, i.e. he is the chief agent of eschatological redemption who is given full control for a limited period of time (in the future, at the time God lets him sit on his (i.e., God’s) throne). Note too that 1 Enoch 62:6 says the Elect One/Son of Man is the one “who rules over all”. Sounds real similar to the NRSV translation of Romans 9:5 where Jesus is the one “who is over all”. Everything seems to line up just fine with the NRSV translation.

    BTW, the same idea that Jesus has been given full control by God is again reflected in a later New Testament text, John 5:21-23: “Indeed, just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whomsoever he wishes. The Father judges no one but has GIVEN all judgement to the Son, so that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Anyone who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      My sense is that this translation is trying to avoid the problem rather than address it.

      • Avatar
        John123  October 30, 2014

        But isn’t it also possible that the “problem” you see does not exist and that the NRSV translation reflects the correct meaning of this passage?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 30, 2014

          All things are possible!

          • Avatar
            John123  October 30, 2014

            To try to make my point further, the scholars of nine bible translations all agree that Romans 9:5 is not saying that Jesus is God, but should be read “the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever” (NRSV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, ASV, YLT, DBY, WEB, HNV). Furthermore, this view of Jesus “who is over all” seems to match the view of Jesus that Paul (same author) has in view in 1 Corinthians 15:24, 28, where God appears to have given Jesus full sway for a limited period of time and then full control will revert back to God. Lastly, that a Jew could have this view of Jesus (where God has given Jesus full sway for a limited period of time and therefore “is over all”) is evident by the fact that the same view is had of the Elect One/Son of Man in 1 Enoch who, on the future day of judgment, “rules over all” (1 Enoch 62:6). How do you so nonchalantly dismiss the work of so many other scholars? What is it about the Greek of Romans 9:5 (or anything else about Romans 9:5), than makes the translation by all of the scholars of the nine bibles noted above implausible?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 31, 2014

            My sense is that the translators were driven by the same views that I once had, that Paul never explicitly calls, or would call, Jesus God, and that we don’t have doxologies directed to Jesus instead of God. But those are circular views, and so I agree with the more recent scholars (Fitzmyer, Jewett — the two most important commentators in receent times) that the text is saying that Christ is God over all (which actually is what the translation you’ve quoted appears to be saying, since “God” stands in opposition to “Messiah”)

          • Avatar
            John123  October 31, 2014

            But the fact is that Paul never does explicitly call Jesus God elsewhere (and you may or may not be correct in your assumption that he “would”). And of the doxologies directed to Jesus, they seem always explicitly or implicitly to the glory of God the Father (e.g. Phil 2:9-11). But how do you figure that “God” stands in opposition to “Messiah” in the NRSV translation: “…from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen”? It seems to me that the passage is simply saying the Jesus is over all, and that Jesus (or Israel) is blessed by God forever.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 1, 2014

            No, it doesn’t say “blessed by God forever. The English grammar works like thi:s Jesus is the “messiah.” He “is over all.” He is “God blessed for ever.” If they wanted “God” to refer to someone other than Jesus, they would have had to insert a different modal verb before it (e.g., by saying, “May God be blessed for ever.”) As it is, “who” is the relative referring back to Messiah, and “God” is the appositive in reference to the substantive occurring immediately before the relative clause.

          • Avatar
            John123  November 1, 2014

            Okay, thanks much for the brief lesson on the Greek in Rom 9:5 — “If they wanted “God” to refer to someone other than Jesus, they would have had to insert a different modal verb before it (e.g., by saying, “May God be blessed for ever.”)”. But just to be clear, Paul is not calling Jesus God the Father in Rom 9:5 is he?

          • Bart
            Bart  November 2, 2014

            Nope!

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 28, 2014

    About Box 19.2: Haven’t you said elsewhere that the ancient Israelites thought some humans taken up to heaven became *stars*?

    Of course, that must be hard to explain, since *we* know stars are huge, inanimate objects. I assume the ancients thought those exalted humans could be “stars” and still be thinking beings? If not, it’s not much of an “exaltation”!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      No, I don’t recall ever saying that!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 31, 2014

        You’re right (not surprisingly!). I misremembered something in “How Jesus Became God.” One of the passages you quoted referred to some humans taken up into heaven as being “greater than the angels, equal to the stars.” And another had “the stars” revering an exalted Moses. You explained that the stars were imagined to be superior angels, “fantastically great” angels.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 28, 2014

    I just read a rather upsetting article entitled “Ehrman Errant” by Louis Markos which appeared today on the “First Things” website. The author seems to suggest that one can claim that the Bible is “inerrant” by redefining the meaning of “inerrant.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      Ha! I haven’t read it. But if the Bible has errors, and one wants to claim that it is inerrant, the most obvious approach would be to redefine what it means to be inerrant so that it doesn’t really mean … inerrant!!

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  November 1, 2014

        I was curious how they could define inerrancy to encompass what is not inerrant so I read some of the article.
        “Blomberg offers as his definition of inerrancy one penned by Paul Feinberg: “Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.””

        So inerrancy is defined to include when all facts are known, original autographs and of course “properly interpreted.”

        • Bart
          Bart  November 1, 2014

          Thanks. I’m going to make some posts on his article. But you’re right — off the bat there are problems.

  5. Avatar
    nichael  October 28, 2014

    I had a question about the discussion of the various meanings of “Son of God” in HJBG, and this seems as good a place as any to ask it:

    One verse that I sort of expected you might cite is Mk 15:39. That is, given that the Greek does not does not contain the definite article, probably the most straightforward way to translate the Centurion’s saying is “Truly this man is _A_ son of God!”[*]

    Now one might claim that, as a Roman, the Centurion’s notion of “Son of God” might not be surprising. But the relevant point, of course, is that the writer of the Gospel chose to retain this form of the statement.

    Does this make sense?

    [* I’ve always been amused by the NRSV’s side-stepping of the issue be translating the statement as “Truly this man is God’s son!” 😉 ]

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      Yes, the NRSV sidesteps the issue rather seriously. I’ve long wondered about that missing article. Does Mark want to make it a more plausible claim coming from a pagan “a son of God”? It’s hard to explain!

  6. Avatar
    fishician  October 29, 2014

    In Acts 2 the author seems to clearly have Peter saying that Jesus was a man appointed by God to be the Messiah; not that he was God fulfilling the role of Messiah as a human. How do fundamentalists argue away what Peter said under (supposedly) divine inspiration?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      They’d say something about how Christ became a real man, and that as a man he fulfilled what was predicted of the messiah. I, of course, don’t see it that way (for Acts).

  7. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 29, 2014

    Also 1 Corinthians 12:12? Can you explain this verse Bart?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      The human body is made up of arms, hands, legs, stomachs, feet, etc. etc. Lots of parts. But one body. So too the body of Christ has lots of parts (different people) with different gifts and functions, but it’s all one body that needs to work together if it is to function as designed.

  8. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 29, 2014

    Bart also Sosthenes, who is this person in history?
    so you have apollos, paul, sothenes and barnabas? unknown beloved disciple that no one know it is.
    speaks of john 11:16 is associated with logion 30 gospel of thomas ?

  9. Avatar
    sebastianliduke  October 29, 2014

    Hi Bart,

    Greetings from Tanzania, i have one question though i have been watching your lectures and one that interested me is on the holy trinity where you talked about John 1:5 verse 7 to 8, but what about Matthew 3:16,17 on baptism , is it a legit verse , has it not being altered based on your view?

    sorry i had to ask here didn’t know where to ask questions i will be grateful if you will take your time to answer.

    Sebastian

  10. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 29, 2014

    Another comment to post on your blog Bart, why was Asclepius ( greek once again 🙂 the 1st Western Hospital, so He was resurrected as well as Dionysus ) found at Nag Hammadi ? Speaking of 1st things coming from Greeks, I would like to use Dionysus and his gift with theatre I believe some of modern day Films are inspired by him, such as Directors getting direction from the Olympians, not to mention the Olmpics, and celebrity parties for the wealthy and powerful where they wear mask with feathers, I have a feeling that is for Dionysus. And what if Dionysus was there now? I can just picture him moving through the crowd behind his mask. haha just bloggin is all

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      Yes there is a tractate called Asclepius in the Nag Hammadi library.

  11. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 29, 2014

    ok last one for the day
    can you associate these bart ?

    The Apocalypse of Peter

    “But the immortal souls are not like these, O Peter. But indeed, as long as the hour is not yet come, it (the immortal soul) shall resemble a mortal one. But it shall not reveal its nature, that it alone is the immortal one, and thinks about immortality, having faith, and desiring to renounce these things.”

    1 Corinthians 15:51-54

    51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
    52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
    53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
    54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

  12. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  October 29, 2014

    One more can you explain this verse real quick Bart.

    The Savior said to me, “He whom you saw on the tree, glad and laughing, this is the living Jesus. But this one into whose hands and feet they drive the nails is his fleshly part, which is the substitute being put to shame, the one who came into being in his likeness. But look at him and me.”

    “But look at him and me”‘?

    But I, when I had looked, said “Lord, no one is looking at you. Let us flee this place.”

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2014

      Yes, this is a key verse in the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, in which it is made clear that the shell of Jesus’ body is not his real being, which is instead the spiritual Christ that separates from Jesus prior to his death.

  13. Avatar
    Stephen  October 30, 2014

    Prof Ehrman

    I was going to be in the Roanoke area on 11/6 and thought I might attend your lecture. Have you decided on a topic?

    thx

  14. Avatar
    richard  October 31, 2014

    “And so, for example, the founder of Rome, Romulus, was thought to have been taken up to the heavens without dying.”

    can one use christian apologist argumentation and say that romulus must have been taken up alive because the writing of the event is very close to the event so myth and legends could not have developed?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 31, 2014

      Ha! Unfortunately, the source for this is Livy, who was many centuries later.

      • Avatar
        richard  November 2, 2014

        other than gods are there any claims made by pagans that thier saints came back to life and roamed the earth? carrier said in his debate that thier are accounts of osiris coming back to life and the accounts describe how he came back to life.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 2, 2014

          Osiris did not come back to life to live again here on earth — he was never “raised from the dead” the way Jesus was said to have been. I discuss this in my book Did Jesus Exist.

  15. Avatar
    simonelli  November 3, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman, to understand Jesus Christ’s place and our place in the scheme of God: one has to have an insight of what God is trying to achieve. Yes, trying to achieve; because there is one thing that even God cannot do, and that is create His equal. We, the human race have been created in His imperfect image; knowing good and evil but tending to do evil. Jesus was the first man that despite the temptations, always did what God would have done. Therefore He inherited God, yes, Jesus the man inherited God, but that is not all; for if we let the Spirit of Christ transform us we will also be heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Unfortunately not all of us believers will make the grade, like not all the citizens of England belong to the royal family. Just saying.

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