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Pushing Back the Exaltation

It has taken me a while to get to this stage with respect to my discussion of exaltation Christologies. At first I thought that the point I’m going to make in this current post would be my very first post – and then I realized I needed to provide background, and then background for the background, and then background for the background for the background and so on. So it’s been a number of posts. And to make sense of this one, you really need to read the others. Sorry ‘bout that, but these things ain’t easy…..

My contention is a fairly non-controversial one among critical scholars of the New Testament and early Christianity. When the disciples came to believe in the resurrection, they thought that God had exalted Jesus to a unique, divine status. This is the oldest Christology there was. It is attested in such places as the pre-Pauline fragment in Rom. 1:3-4 and in several places, pre-Lukan, incorporated in the speeches of Acts.

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An Important and Relevant Textual Variant in Luke 2
Exaltation Christology in the Speeches in Acts



  1. Avatar
    Jim  February 13, 2013

    I for one really appreciate the fact that you take the time to go through background upon background upon background. That may not necessarily count for much because I’m weird. 🙂

    Did the idea that there needed to be a “perfect” sacrifice for the sins of humanity develop somewhat in parallel with the notion of Jesus’ pre-existence, or did this occur more around the Augustine’s era? I think this concept was foreign to the Jews as they felt everyone was responsible for their own sins (payable at the temple via sacrifices) and the original disciples probably grew up with this understanding.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 13, 2013

      The idea of the perfect sacrifice can already be found in the NT, in the book of Hebrews. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice is there contrasted with the imperfect sacrifices in the Temple.

  2. Avatar
    Adam0685  February 13, 2013

    Interesting series of posts!

    “Divine being” seems quite vague. I think of maybe an angel or “god” (small g – which is itself an interesting category!) or something not human but supernatural

  3. gmatthews
    gmatthews  February 13, 2013

    Do any early Christian writers make note of this exaltation regression to any extent? It seems like the theory would have been radical to people of pre-modern times (after the 1st century AD anyway) so I was wondering if any early writers even hinted that the regression was recognized.

    • gmatthews
      gmatthews  February 13, 2013

      I just read the question from yesterday that asked when did the early church start railing against the multi-Christology interpretations. To which you replied: 2nd century. So, to amend my question, was there anyone who still recognized the exaltation regressions after the 2nd century and commented on it? Heretics, critics, etc.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  February 13, 2013

        There were Christians who thought Jesus was “adopted” to be the son of God at his baptism still in the second century; they were considered heretical by other Christian groups.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 13, 2013

      Not that I know of.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  February 13, 2013

    Wow! I can’t wait for the followup posts!

    And I’m amazed that the scholar who traced that “backward movement of the exaltation” concept was a Catholic priest. Did he remain a priest *in good standing with the Church* while holding (and teaching) views most Catholics would regard as heretical?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 13, 2013

      Oh yes, he was in good standing. At Vatican II, and subsequently, the Catholic hierarchy approved the serious study of the Bible using modern methods of analysis.

  5. Avatar
    Claude  February 13, 2013

    Man. At $25 this blog has been a steal.

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 13, 2013

    The blog has been a “steal” and I have told all of my friends. I had never before heard about the four stages of the progressively higher Christology described in the recent posts and find it to be quite interesting. Thanks

    • Avatar
      brandyrose  February 15, 2013

      I absolutely agree! I live in a (relatively) conservative part of the country (central valley of California), and my friends are either very conservative and evangelical and uninterrested in this sort of (fascinating) conversation, or burned by the church and opposed to talking about things religious or spiritual. This blog helps me have an outlet for this interst of mine 🙂 So thanks and I agree, a steal at $25.00!

  7. Avatar
    hwl  February 16, 2013

    Does the idea of exaltation of a human being into a divine being fit well with Palestinian 2nd temple Judaism?

  8. Avatar
    hwl  February 16, 2013

    I’m confused as to how you think the title “son of God” was understood by different NT authors. In your NT textbook, and in your Teaching Company course, you noted that “son of God” and “son of Man” to modern-day readers would denote divinity and humanity respectively. You stressed in 1st century Judaism, the reverse would have been the case: Jews would understand son of God as reference to Jesus’ humanity and son of Man to his divine status as cosmic judge. In the past couple of posts, you are presupposing son of God would connote divinity in some sense. Can you clarify?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  February 16, 2013

      This is something that I’ve changed my mind about (a bit — not completely). But it’ll take a post to explain. You’re encountering that a lot today….

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