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Radio Debate on How Jesus became God: Part 1

As is my wont, I was in England for Spring Break, and while there I was invited to participate in a radio program devoted to my book How Jesus Became God (as I’ve indicated before on the blog).   The program was set up to be a radio “debate,” or, well, “friendly exchange of ideas” (it was the latter more than the former) between me and Simon J. Gathercole, who is a Senior Lecturer in New Testament at Cambridge University.  Simon is one of the five contributors to the response book How God Became Jesus.   He is a bona fide and serious New Testament scholar, whom I respect and with whom I heartily disagree on many many issues!  🙂   The program was “Unbelievable,” a weekly program on UK Premier Christian Radio hosted by moderator Justin Brierley, a bright and interesting fellow, not a scholar but well acquainted with scholarship.  He, like Simon, is a reasonably, but reasonable, conservative Christian.  The “debate” involved two segments, both taped on March 29th, 2014.   The following is the first of the two.

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Women at the Tomb
My First Radio Interview on How Jesus Became God



  1. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  April 1, 2014

    As of April 1, 2014, at Amazon.com US, “How Jesus Became God” is “outdoing” the book “How God Became Jesus” 14 reviews to 3 reviews, 4 stars to 3.25 stars! 😀 (I am still waiting for my copy of your book to arrive here in Japan.)

    I am really interested in is your response to the latter book at some point. Do you think the points the authors make, make for interesting reading, or is it pretty standard (if there is such a thing) Christian apologetics?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 1, 2014

      no, they are good scholars with some important points. And some rather bad ones. 🙂

      • TracyCramer
        TracyCramer  April 2, 2014

        I look forward to your doing some posts on some of the important points they make (as well as some of the bad.)

    • Avatar
      ShivaAsh  April 8, 2014

      I happen to think a great deal of scholarship is in fact Christian apologetics, but a more sophisticated, informed, and clever kind.

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    richard gills  April 1, 2014

    Dr Ehrman

    at the time mark 30:53 there was the discussion about forgiving sins.

    i will now quote the relevant verses

    why this man this does SPEAK he blasphemies who is ABLE to forgive SINS if not one [that is] god?

    jesus replies , “…. why THESE things REASON you in the hearts of you?”

    in the same version of the account in mark

    matthew writes:

    “…some of the scribes said to themselves this [man] BLASPHEMES!”

    jesus’ reply, “…WHY think you EVIL in the hearts of you ?”

    when jesus is accused of doing satan’s work, he replies , “how can satan cast out satan”.
    If jesus thought he was co equal with the 1st person in trinity , why didn’t he say , “how can god blaspheme AGAINST god?”

    why, if he thought of himself to be a god , he said that the THOUGHTS of the pharisee’s were EVIL?

    the pharisee’s were told to reject foreign gods yhwh never knew.
    why would jesus call thier thoughts evil when he would know that yhwh told the jews to reject eating and drinking flesh gods ? they had the RIGHT thoughts for assuming in thier minds that jesus blasphemed, right?

    if he assumed to himself equality with yhwh then jesus cannot call thier thoughts evil.

    If he didn’t assume equality with yhwh and thought that god gave him power to forgive sins just as the crowds assumed, then it makes sense why he would call the pharisee thoughts evil.

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    willow  April 1, 2014

    “He is a bona fide and serious New Testament scholar, whom I respect and with whom I heartily disagree on many many issues!”

    I am forever amazed at how many, and to what extent, these New Testament scholars (such as Evans) so oftentimes agree with you. In particular, when it comes to the Gospel of John, and whether Jesus really said this and that regarding his “oneness” with God, even so that he was/is God, the “I Am” that was before Abraham, come in the flesh. Such scholarly “doubt”, and from such authorities, is reason enough to pause and to question.

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    willow  April 1, 2014

    I can’t wait for Part II, by the way! I so love Brierley!

    • TracyCramer
      TracyCramer  April 2, 2014

      Hi Willow, I looked at the Unbelievable site, and it has not been posted yet, but there is an entertaining discussion between Mark Goodacre of Duke and Richard Carrier on the Jesus as myth topic, and a lot of other interesting stuff, if you are interested. tracy

      • Avatar
        willow  April 3, 2014

        I’m going to pull up that discussion, Tracy, along with what discussion is going on over at Amazon regarding How Jesus Became God. I do so wish you had the book in your hands, right now!

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    Dennis  April 1, 2014

    When Dr. Gathercole mentioned that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins is equal to saying he’s God as “implied”, I take that to mean his own cognitive bias interpretation. Whereas Dr. Ehrman gave two solid points.

    And when Dr. Gathercole agreed he was not with the majority of scholarship convinced me not to bother with the rebuttal book. Seems like just more evangelicalism vice scholarship.

    • TracyCramer
      TracyCramer  April 2, 2014

      Dear Bart,
      Regarding your and Dr. Gathercole’s discussion of Jesus forgiving sins that Dennis mentions, E.P. Sanders on pages 213 and 214 of his book The Historical Figure of Jesus has this to say about Mark 2:

      “The text does not have Jesus say, “I forgive your sins” but “Your sins are forgiven”, in the passive voice. In Jesus’ culture the passive voice was used as a circumduction for God: “your sins are forgiven” means “they are forgiven by God.” Jesus only announces the fact, he does not take the place of God. He might have sounded too sure of knowing what God did or would do, and conceivably he appeared arrogant. But such a claim – to know the mind of God – would not be unique or especially offensive…. He was very confident about his relationship with God, but he was not a blasphemer, nor was he considered one. The charge of blasphemy in Mark 2 looks like a retrojection…”

      Bart, could you comment on this? Jesus is not doing the forgiving, but God is. And that therefore he would not have been accused of blasphemy in his time on this point.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  April 2, 2014

        As usual, I think Sanders is absolutely on target. (For what it’s worth, I think he could arguably be considered the greatest NT scholar of this generation)

        • TracyCramer
          TracyCramer  April 3, 2014

          Thanks for responding. Yes, his book that I mention is excellent. I think somewhere else he talks about how disease and sin, at that time, were linked. And that healing was related to being forgiven, as well. So to heal someone is also helping them to be forgiven.
          best, tracy

        • TracyCramer
          TracyCramer  April 3, 2014

          Oh, BTW, I came across an evangelical reviewer (Rob Bowman of the Parchment & Pen Blog, http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/03/how-jesus-became-god-or-how-god-became-jesus-a-review-of-bart-ehrmans-new-book-and-a-concurrent-response/#more-14847 ) who reviewd your book and How God Became Jesus, at the same time. He is quite knowledgeable and articulate. It was good to read because he really takes the Christian writers of How God Became Jesus to task for their poor response to your book. He also has a lot of good things to say about you even as he does believe that Jesus is God. I think you might like this review. tracy

        • Avatar
          richard gills  April 15, 2014

          dr ehrman, when jc says that he was the lord of the sabbath , do you think that the original saying said that every jew was lord of sabbath because the sabbath was made for man and not man made for the sabbath?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  April 15, 2014

            Yes, I think that’s what he originally meant.

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    fishician  April 1, 2014

    As I am reading your book I am again struck by how the Gospel of Luke has a detailed story of Jesus first appearing after his resurrection to two previously unknown disciples in Emmaus, and when they return to Jerusalem the apostles say, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.” So, Jesus’ appearance to Simon [Peter] gets one offhand remark, but these two unknown disciples get several paragraphs. What’s up with that?! Was the comment about Simon added to be compatible with Paul’s claim that Jesus first appeared to Peter (Cephas)? But then why tell first about these other two who aren’t mentioned by Paul or anyone else? Very odd, I think, that Luke would have a source with the details of the Emmaus story but not one with the details of an appearance to Peter.

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    Wilusa  April 1, 2014

    Haven’t had time to listen to the radio debate yet, but I’m asking these questions here because it’s your newest post.

    I’ve reached page 28 in the book – loving it! But I have two questions. In the Introduction, you seem to be totally endorsing the exaltation Christology. I thought you’d recently concluded that some of the very earliest believers viewed Jesus as having been a preexisting (minor) divine being…an angel?

    And on page 28, you say that in “the ancient world,” the term “Son of God” was never used to refer to anyone but Jesus or a Roman Emperor. Do you mean, specifically, in this post-Jesus time period? Because you’ve said Jews previously used it to refer to people like David and Solomon. (Weren’t *they* still using it, post-Jesus, to refer to those earlier figures?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 1, 2014

      First question: keep reading. Second question, I meant in the pagan world, and should have said that. Although now that I think about it, I wonder if the phrase “Son of God” was used of Jewish kings or not (they were understood to be God’s son, but I wonder if the phrase occurs. I should know the answer, and probably do, but my mind is not retrieving the data just now….)

      • Avatar
        Yvonne  April 2, 2014

        God tells David in Leviticus that he will be his father and David will be his son…

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  April 2, 2014

          I think you mean 2 Samuel. David wasn’t alive in the time of Moses!!

          • Avatar
            Yvonne  April 3, 2014

            You are right – 2 Samuel

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    Lee  April 1, 2014

    I am new to the blog, and of the “not-a-scholar-but-well-acquainted-with-scholarship” type.
    Thank God I find people who are reasonable.
    and thank you for a good discussion, i can see the discomfort Simon was going through.
    eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

    I studied in a theological college and translate academic Christian literature.
    Years of reading Geza Vermes, RIP, and other books on the early church opened a lot of windows for me.
    Fact remains, no matter how much christian scholars say they are open-minded, if questions are raised without the presupposition of “faith”, the response is invariably: we are not on the same page.
    example: scriptural reasoning class, run by a rabbi, a vicar and a sheik – i cited many places in OT where “sons of God” refer to all who revered and feared God, Genesis, Job, Psalms etc etc, and asked the vicar when did the generic “sons of God” became a specific claim in Matthew 16:16 referring only to Jesus? The vicar went ape and never spoke to me again, telling everyone I was Jewish. It was a fellow participant (SVD monk) who quietly shared with me that “the recognition of Jesus’s person as one of the trinity” went through a slow process and many years of devout wisdom of the church fathers, that his innate nature was fashioned into a more succinct description as we now know, but he hastily added that I have to rely on faith to truly appreciate the value of tradition.

    if we look at what Jesus taught and christian behaviour nowadays (forgetting all the horrors of inquisition, crusades, blah blah blah), one wonders if he were around nowadays he would just shake his head and go: “verily, verily i say unto thee…..”
    He advocated repentance, but how often do Christians accept that they are wrong? I have the Orthodox church shouting on my back saying they are Christ’s body on earth and cannot be wrong!
    consider the acts of worship, the Eucharist is all about Jesus (a die hard anglican speaking here), even OT is given christological tints.
    Faith is less about תקון עולם, and more about personal salvation. pain, pain, pain.

    maybe the Chinese got it right after all – modern Christian studies scholars generally do not find it necessary to profess their ascription, they certainly don’t use faith to argue their discourse.
    last summer the Chinese Theology Forum held in Oxford had scholars from disciplines such as new leftism, neo Confucianism, socialism and nationalism all coming together to discuss the effect of christian movement in contemporary China. No one stood up to say “how can you say that? are you Christian?”
    It was a more sane environment for study and discussion when no one tries to shove faith down my throat.

  9. Avatar
    Hank_Z  April 1, 2014

    Bart, I thoroughly enjoyed part one of the debate/discussion. Several main thoughts:

    1. I was surprised that Gathercole claimed not even in John did Jesus explicitly “go around telling people” that he was God in the sense that he was the same as the father and pre-existed the world. You’re the one who then showed the evidence that John says that Jesus did make such a claim.

    2. Gathercole argues that, according to the gospels, Jesus did not explicitly tell ANYONE that he was the pre-existent God…when Jesus was on earth and had his only chance to directly give people that essential part of the “good news”. Yet evangelicals generally hold that if those of us who live 2,000 years later don’t believe Jesus was the pre-existent God, we’ll be punished forever in hell. I keep thinking, “How stupid do they think we are?”

    3. Gathercole’s trying to equate the Synoptics’ supposed implications that Jesus was the pre-existent God with the direct claims made by Jesus in John was intellectually dishonest, in my opinion. He kept trying to put that under the umbrella of “tensions” that exist…even within the Synoptics.

    4. I found Gathercole surprisingly inarticulate in making his arguments. He seemed unable to directly get to the point as you did. Or maybe it’s tough when the other guy (you) has the better argument.

    4. Question: What do you make of Gathercole’s claim that Jesus’ forgiving of sins in the synoptics clearly indicates that Jesus was one with the pre-existent God? That seemed to be about the only claim you didn’t have time to answer.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 1, 2014

      Priests could forgive sins in the Temple, so it was not simply a divine perogative. Anyone given the authority by God could do so. It doesn’t make a person pre-existent.

    • Avatar
      Scott F  April 2, 2014

      “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained” (John 20:23).

      Apparently one person can delegate the forgiveness of sins to another – like God did to Jesus in Mark 2. I, too, found Gathercole’s argument fishy.

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    nichael  April 1, 2014

    1] My primary reaction is: Why the *heck* isn’t there a show like this on *my* radio?!?!

    2] For those who are wired up for such things, I’ll just mention that iTunes offers a podcast for “Unbelievable”.

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    zemi  April 1, 2014

    It seems to me that you’ve never before in your publications or lectures mentioned that Jesus is portrayed in the synoptics as god as well with the most important addition “but it depends in what sense”. I was surprised by you saying that: Your New Testament textbook, when it deals with the synoptics, talks of Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah and the Savior of the world. Of course, I might have missed something and it’s not new in your talking about these things. It sure then looks like a different emphasis that you’re using. I remember reading on your blog your mentioning of M. Peppard’s “The Son of God in the Roman World” and it looks to me that this is where you took up the concepts of different “scale of divinities” in the New Testament era which he empasizes. But I could be of course totally wrong 🙂 Could you drop in a brief comment about this. Thanks!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  April 2, 2014

      Yes, this is something that I’ve changed my mind about, rather emphatically, as I’ll explain in a later post (soon).

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    Scott F  April 2, 2014

    I noticed that this “debate” ran much the same as the one broadcast with Mike Licona on “Unbelievable”. The other guest would make some claim that was supposed to make his case, you would expose the weakness in his assumptions and the guest would be forced to back peddle until the argument lost all it’s force. It’s no wonder that these guys take in so many want-to-believe folks when a Bart Ehrman isn’t around to rein in their howlers.

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    gabilaranjeira  April 2, 2014

    Did peoples of the acient world (either pagan or Jewish) refer to God as father like Jesus does? Does the word for father used in Greek and Aramaic confer the same meaning and implications of heredity and intimacy as today? Could this have been another avenue taken by early Christians that lead to the view of Jesus as God?

    I got your new book. Unfortunately the book is in the US and I’m currently in Brazil… :o(

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    gabilaranjeira  April 2, 2014

    In Portuguese it would be “Pai” which is just like father.
    I’ll be back next week precisely in time to attend your Smithsonian lecture. I’ve been waiting for 4 months! 🙂

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    ShivaAsh  April 8, 2014

    Did Simon Gathercole actually answer whether the historical question of Jesus’s and the disciples’ view of Jesus’s nature affect theology?

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    michael  October 11, 2015

    It seemed to me that response time was somewhat biased towards Dr. Gathercole. I would have preferred it if Bart would have received equal time allocated, but the moderator seemed to be rushing him each time. Let’s see if he does the same thing in part two…

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