Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 1)

ehrmangodI have for a long time waited for the release of this book. I remember emailing Dr. Ehrman back in 2008 and discussing a few small details concerning this book at that time. Now it has been released and it is certainly as controversial as the rest of his publications.

Unfortunately, I am disappointed with his efforts.

These posts will be a series of responses to various parts of the book. Today’s post deals with his section entitled ‘The Angel of the Lord as God and Human’ (chapter 2).

Starting on p. 55, Ehrman begins to build his case which argues that within the multifaceted expression of Judaisms, “divine” beings, as he calls them, could indeed become human. I will begin my objection with his terminology. The phrase “divine” is not a term to which everyone ascribes the same definition, thus proving to be less helpful in this manner of discourse. Does calling someone divine mean that they are Yahweh? Does it mean that they are superhuman? Do demons fit this description? Are they immortal? Are they all-powerful? The questions can go on, but I contend that the word “divine” needs to be jettisoned from these types of discussions.

Ehrman goes on to describe the account in Genesis 16 when the Angel of the LORD appears to Hagar. A dialogue ensues where the angels speaks as if it were God himself. In Gen. 16:13 Hagar expresses her shock that she had “seen God and remained alive after seeing him.” Ehrman concludes the following:

“either the Lord appears as an angel in the form of a human, or the Angel of the Lord is the Lord himself, God in human guise.” -p. 56

So either God showed up, literally, in person, as a human being, or the angel is God. Sadly, the most likely option is not stated by Ehrman, which is that angels are messengers who speak on behalf of their sender. This is the widely known principle of agency. Even the rabbis repeatedly wrote that “an agent is as the one who sent him” (m.Ber 5.5; b.Baba Met 96a; b.Hag 10b; b.Qid 42b; b.Men 93b; b.Naz 12b).

The article on angels in the TDNT states that, “Even in the most developed angelology the angels only serve to execute and reveal the power and deity of Yahweh; they are his court, and train, and ambassadors.” (1:81)

Ehrman seems to be aware of the principle of agency as an interpretive option available to him because he cites a note (in his discussion of the same theme in Exod. 3:1-22) in the HarperCollins Study Bible (no doubt to support his own publisher) which says that:

“Although it was an angel that appeared in v. 2, there is no substantive difference between the deity and his agents.”

See? He knows that the angels represent God as his agents, but he fails to give this option as an interpretive choice, which is by far the most convincing in my opinion.

Ehrman also quotes from Charlces Gieschen who argues that the passage could easily be read as seeing the angel as “a distinct figure, separate from God, who is bestowed with God’s own authority.” See? There again Ehrman is aware that agency is an scholarly answer to interpreting the angels who speak on behalf of God. Yet sadly, Ehrman does not find this argument convincing enough to push forward. Surely he is aware that the Hebrew for angel, malak, means both a messenger as well as one of the angelic hosts. The messenger both represents the sender in every way while remaining a distinct person (or self) from him or her. This, I argue, is obvious.

This is just one of many parts of this book that made me disappointed. Ehrman is a great historian, but it seems that he has room for improvement in his biblical interpretive skills.

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6 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 1)

  1. Thank you Dustin. While I certainly do not profess to being a Biblical scholar, before I read your response, I thought, “Well there is a third option, what if the angel is simply a messenger of God and speaking on God’s behalf.” I look forward to further reviews.

  2. That is so simple and obvious, that an angel can be called LORD because he represents him.
    And Bart acts like he does not know this? Even Moses was as God unto Pharaoh.

  3. Dustin

    Yeah – while I usually appreciate Ehrman – it seems some of the shards of evangelicalism have remained hanging from his corpse (so to speak…:-) ).

    Another great example is Joshua wrestling with “the man” whom Hosea clearly calls an angel (Hos12:2).

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