Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 4 – John 10:30)

This is installment number four of my responses to Bart Ehrman’s newest book on christology. I began with my previous post my examination of the third chapter entitled ‘Did Jesus Think He Was God?’

IAnd TheFatherAreOneOn page 124 Ehrman continues to build his argument which serves to contrast the christologies of the Synoptics with the Fourth Gospel. I was quite disappointed when he elected to deploy John 10:30 in order to make his case. John 10:30 has Jesus declaring, “I and the Father are one” (ἐγὼ καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ἕν ἐσμεν). Ehrman further elaborates on this passage on page 125 when he makes such statements as, “he is saying that he is equal with God,” “who was in fact equal with God,” etc.

The reason I say that this is disappointing is because even the most conservative scholars of Johannine literature don’t interpret John 10:30 as if Jesus is claiming coequality with God. In fact, that particular argument has for a long time been dropped from christological arguments over the content of the Fourth Gospel. This makes me question whether Ehrman even attempted to consult commentaries on the Gospel of John when he was researching for his current book. Here is what he might find, first from Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII,

We note that vss. 28 and 29 make the same statement about Jesus and about the Father: no one can snatch the sheep from either’s hand. This leads us to an understanding of the unity that is expressed in 30: it is a unity of power and operation…in itself this description remains primarily functional – pp. 407-8

Another from Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John, vol. 2,

Jesus claims to have the same ability as the Father. In that sense, the Father and Jesus are “one.” Yet, in this context, the statement is not a metaphysical one. It is a statement of functional unity and in spite of its aptness for later Trinitarian debate, I would argue that its original meaning is not substantially different from that of 5:17-18. – p. 473

Or again in the 2nd edition of George R. Beasley-Murray’s John,

The setting of v 30 in relation to v 28-28 shows that a functional unity of the Son and the Father in their care for the sheep is in mind. From earliest times it has been observed that Jesus says, “I and the Father are en, not eis, i.e., one in action, not in person. -p. 174

The late F.F. Bruce makes similar comments in his The Gospel and Epistles of John,

Here we have a particular application of the statements in John 5:19-23. So responsive is the Son to the Father that he is one in mind, one in purpose, one in action with him. -pp. 232-3

James McGrath’s contribution to the SNTSMS entitled John’s Apologetic Christology likewise echoes the same point,

Nonetheless, the claim of the Son to carry out divine prerogatives is the key issue, and thus it is the idea that the Son and the Father are one in action that is in focus in the controversy described in the passage. -p. 119

Marianne Meye Thompson’s article on the Gospel of John in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels is quite informative,

When the Gospel speaks of the unity of the Father and Son, it points especially to their unity in work of revelation and salvation (8:16; 10:25-30; 14:10-11; 17:10). That is to say, the actions and words of Jesus were truly the actions and words of God. -p. 378

Warren Carter’s insightful work on John: Storyteller, Interpreter, Evangelist states,

This intimate reciprocal relationship is marked by unity in function and purpose: they are one (10:30) – p. 53

The commentary on John in the New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IX, written by Gail R. O’Day, makes a lengthy observation,

It is critical that the contemporary interpreter read v. 30 in the context of Johannine theology and not through the lens of the christological controversies of the second through fourth centuries or of the trinitarian doctrine that developed out of these controversies. The Greek word “one” is neuter, not masculine, so that Jesus is not saying that he and God are one person, or even of one nature or essence. Rather, he is saying that he and God are united in the work that they do. It is impossible to distinguish Jesus’ work from God’s work, because Jesus shares fully in God’s work. -p. 677

I can multiply these quotes, but my aim was to demonstrate that the near consensus of modern scholarship on the Gospel of John understands John 10:30 as a unity in purpose, rather than a statement of coequality between the Father and the Son. The same unity, expressed by the neuter en, is spoken in reference to Christians united with God and Jesus in John 17:22, 24. It is surprising that Ehrman does not cite John 10:29 (“The Father is greater than all”), 14:28 (“The Father is greater than I”), or the powerful 17:3 (“You [Father] are the only true God”). These verses would show that Ehrman’s reconstruction of the Fourth Gospel’s christology has significant room for improvement.

Let this be a lesson to all of us. It does us no good to simply cherry-pick our favorite passages and ignore the ones which might hurt our case. Responsible reconstructions and interpretations require readers to take seriously all of the evidence in addition to honest interaction with what other scholars are writing/saying on that subject.


26 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 4 – John 10:30)

  1. If eis is masculine and descriptive of oneness in person, then that simply means that the Shema can’t be oneness is essence (which would be neuter), right?

    1. The masc. eis would mean “one [masculine] subject” while the neuter en means “one thing”.
      I think that the Shema argues that God is numerically one, as He is repeatedly described with singular pronouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, etc.

      1. In other words, the “three whos” and “one what” that James White uses to describe the Trinity wouldn’t work, right? You must argue that three “he’s” are one “he.”

    2. Compare John 10.30 where the ἕν is neuter, not masculine. In other words Jesus and the Father are NOT one “person”, but one “thing.” YET, many trinis still use this verse to argue for their doctrine.

      PS: here are a couple of good “take downs” on White’s Jesus is YHWH premise:

    3. Well, I do not think most Trinitarians would opt for reading the Shema oneness as referring to substance/essence. Since both θεος and κυριος are masculine, εις might be understood as referring to either of those: “the Lord, our God, the Lord is one [God/Lord]”. Such an understanding would fit the Trinitarian view. Still however, it would seem difficult to avoid the notion that this one God of the Shema is a ‘he’, a person, when we take into account the episode from Mark 12.

  2. Dustin, this is a great take-down of those who believe Jesus is divine, but Dr. Ehrman does not in fact believe that Jesus said he was God in the Gospel of John. In fact, after noting what is said in these verses, on p. 125 of his book he says clearly that “These are amazingly exalted claims. But looked at from a historical perspective, they simply cannot be ascribed to the historical Jesus.” and “We have no record of any Palestinian Jew every saying such things about himself. These divine self-claims in John are part of John’s distinctive theology; they are no part of the historical record of what Jesus actually said.”

    This is true, by the way, of the entire Book of John, which, while containing MUCH theological Truth, do NOT contain a verbatim transcript of lengthy sayings of Jesus.

  3. PS: Navas, in his excellent [though dense] book has a whole section on John 10.30 which includes a quote from Calvin:

    “The ancients made a wrong use of this passage to prove that Christ is (homoousios) of the same essence with the Father. For Christ does not argue about the unity of substance, but about the agreement which he has with the Father, so that whatever is done by Christ will be confirmed by the power of his Father.”

    1. I think he is aware. He just doesn’t find it persuasive. He was a Christian at one point, yes.

  4. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find a radical Spiritually informed critique/assessment of the fabricated origins and institutional political purposes of the “New” Testament. An assessment which basically affirms what Bart Ehrman and others have to say about the origins and development of Christian belief and dogma. – including Gert Ludemann
    The author spent 50 years engaging in the most thorough in-depth investigation of every aspect the Christian religion that has ever been done.
    He was fully up to date with all of the latest scholarship re the origins of the “New” Testament. Pointing out that none of the said scholars, and indeed all of the usual Christian apologists, have any understanding of Esoteric Spiritual Religion

  5. Greetings, dustinmartyr!

    I did a brief search on your blog for posts pertaining to John 1:1c, but was unable to find any. Did I miss anything that you have written on?

    Thank you,

      1. Thanks, Dustin.

        Although you do not deal directly with John 1:1c very much, I was able to get a sense of your take on it.

        In your “Reading John 1 with Clarity” post, you state that the anarthrous, pre-copula θεός in John 1:1c is to be taken as an adjective. Then you state that because of this “the latter part of John 1:1 (“and the word was God”) should not be read as if the ‘word’ is being identified one-to-one with ‘God’ but rather using ‘God’ in an adjectival sense.”

        You seemed confused with respect to your understanding of predicate nominative constructions. Predicate nominatives (e.g., θεός in John 1:1c) usually describe a larger category that the nominative (e.g., ὁ λόγος in John 1:1c) belongs to. The larger category in this context is the quality of divinity (as indicated by the anarthrous, pre-copula θεός), not the person of the Father (as indicated by the articular, post-copula τὸν θεόν in John 1.1b).

        So, yes, John does not equate ὁ λόγος with ὁ θεός (in fact, I don’t know of many any NT exegetes who do), but John does state that ὁ λόγος shares the same qualitative nature that ὁ θεός has (as indicated by the the anarthrous, pre-copula θεός in 1:1c).

        Your statement that the θεός in John 1.1c functions as an adjective does not do justice to the nature of predicate nominative constructions in John 1.1c.

        By the way, how many years have you studied in Greek exegesis?


  6. Thanks for responding.

    I think that the mindset of a Jew living at the end of the first century CE would be aware of the prevailing poetic Wisdom traditions (Sirach 24; Wisdom of Sol. 6; etc.). I also regard the Targums wherein the “word” was used as a substitute for “God” as substantial contextual evidence. John Ronning has an entire chapter dedicated to this very point in his book ‘The Jewish Targums and John’s Logos Theology.’ Also James Dunn devotes a significant chapter in ‘Christology in the Making’ to the ‘word’ in Second Temple Jewish discourse, arguing persuasively that the word is best understood as “God’s utterance.” These works have influenced my thinking on the matter at hand.

    On the anarthrous theos, I feel that my argument is in line with what a lot of scholars are saying on the subject at hand. I won’t type out their arguments in full, but I can refer you to their works in which they admit that the anarthrous theos is adjectival (or characteristic of theos) in nature:

    -Newman, Barclay Moon, and Nida, Eugene. ‘A Translator’s Handbook to The Gospel of John.’ (London: United Bible Societies, 1980) 8-9.
    -Kubo, Sakae. ‘A Beginner’s New Testament Greek Grammar.’ (Lanham, New York, 1979) 150.
    -Goguel, Maurice. ‘La Bible du Centenaire, L’Evangile selon Jean.’ (Socit Biblique de Pars, 1928).
    -Perry, Alfred Morris. “Translating the Greek Article,” in JBL 68: 331.
    -Tenney, Merrill Chapin. ‘John: The Gospel of Belief.” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948) 65.

    I took Greek both in my undergraduate studies as well as in grad school. Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, does not equate the logos with theos in John 1:1c.

    Hope that helps clarify my position.


    1. If you do not take ὁ λόγος as a personal, how can it be qualitatively divine? Does not having the essence of divinity assume person-hood?


      1. The logos isn’t a person. It is the personification of God’s creative speech.

      2. One of your sources (the only source I checked) uses the word “diety” (e.g., “and 0eòs ην (“was deity”); . . . the qualitative force is obvious” from Perry, “Translating the Greek Article.”).

        And, no, I don’t take it that the Word of God in Psalm 33.6 entails person-hood. I reject the idea that every occurrence of the phrase “Word of God” has to entail person-hood in order for “the word” in John 1:1 to entail person-hood. Moreover, the current discussion is about John 1:1, not Psalm 33.6.

    2. I understand that. But doesn’t the fact that ὁ λόγος has the essence of divinity have to mean that it is personal?

  7. The Divine Trinity.

    The New Testament speaks of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Many have understood this to mean that God is in three Divine Persons, each of whom is infinite and eternal, and each of whom is God and Lord. But the New Testament does not speak of Persons in God at all, much less of three Divine Persons existing from eternity.
    It is admitted by many that the question of how three persons make one God is past all human understanding. And because of this mystery many people do not think deeply about God, believing that their minds are not capable of entering into such thought.
    What does Swedenborg teach concerning the Divine Trinity?
    From what has gone before in this lecture it can be seen that the Father, the one infinite and eternal God, is not one Divine Person and the Son another Divine Person. but that they are one. as soul and body are one. The Son. the Divine Human, is the Divine Body, and the Father is the Divine Soul in that Divine Bodv. Even as the soul and body of a man are not two people, but one person, so the Father and the Son, the Divine and the Divine Human of the Lord are one Divine Person.
    But what then of the Holy Spirit?
    Swedenborg teaches that the Holy Spirit is the Lord’s own Divine Spirit going forth from Him to men and angels. It is the Divine Love and Wisdom proceeding out of the Divine Human of the Lord to work the regeneration and salvation of mankind. This can be seen perfectly represented in the Gospel of .John:

    “And when He had said this. He breathed on them and said. Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)

    This was said after the Lord’s Resurrection. The Holy Spirit is there represented as the Breath of the Lord. His Breath is His Divine Truth going forth from Himself to men. Swedenborg calls this the Divine Proceeding, or, the Divine Operation.
    That the Holy Spirit is the Divine proceeding from the glorified Human of the Lord is also taught in these passages from the New Testament: “But this He spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:39.) The original Greek reads “The Holy Spirit was not yet, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.”

    “It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.” (John 16:7.)

    After the Lord was glorified, that is, after His Human was made Divine, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, which leads men into all truth, could come to men, because through the Divine Human the Divine Good and Truth can inflow into our minds.
    The conclusion therefore is that the Divine Trinity is not a Trinity of Persons, but that it is a Trinity of essentials in the one Divine Person, our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father is the Divine itself, present in Him as the Soul. The Son is the Divine Human, which is the Body of that Divine Soul, and the Holy Spirit is the Divine Operation, the Divine Good and Truth proceeding from God to men.
    This is taught also by Paul, in these words concerning the Lord:

    “For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.)

    If you see God as one Divine Person, one Divine Man, and the Trinity in Him as Soul, Body and Proceeding, you will have an understandable idea of God and of the Divine Trinity in Him. This teaching is that which is given in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. It is the Supreme Truth concerning the Lord.
    This truth may be summarized thus: That the Lord Jesus Christ is the one God of heaven and earth, that He is Jehovah, the Lord from eternity, that He is the Creator from eternity, that He is the Redeemer in time, that He is the regenerator into eternity, and thus that He is at the same time the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
    The Lord Jesus Christ is our God. There is no other. To Him we owe all that is good and all that is true. All power in heaven and on earth is His. To Him alone should we pray. To Him alone should be our worship, our love, and the service of our lives.

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  9. “The larger category in this context is the quality of divinity (as indicated by the anarthrous, pre-copula θεός), not the person of the Father (as indicated by the articular, post-copula τὸν θεόν in John 1.1b).”

    That is an extremely speculative view. Greek is very flexible in terms of word order, and there doesn’t appear to be any reason to think that nouns become adjectives simply by virtue of their position in relation the verb. As J. Gwyn Griffiths pointed out about 64 years ago:

    “Dr. Strachan…thinks that the omission of the article before [QEOS] gives it the force of an adjective, whereas Dr., Temple derives the same force (or a force ‘not far from adjectival’) from the predicative use of the word. It may be suggested that neither of these statements is confirmed by general usage in classical or Hellenistic Greek. Nouns which send their articles do not thereby become adjectives; nor is it easy to see how the predicative use of a noun, in which the omission of the article is normal, tends to give the noun adjectival force.” (A Note on the Anarthrous Predicate in Hellenistic Greek, The Expository Times, Vol. 62), p. 315


    “Taken by itself, the sentence [KAI QEOS HN hO LOGOS] could admittedly bear either of two meanings: (I) ‘and the Word was (the) God’ or (2) ‘and the Word was (a) God.'”

    The Greek construction we find at John 1:1c is found in numerous places in John’s Gospel. It is instructive that in every case that is similar to John 1:1c, i.e. where the predicate nominative is (a) pre-verbal, (b) anarthrous, (c) not qualified, (d) does not name a quality, and (e) is not definite (this is an assumption, as it certainly could be definite), said nouns are rendered indefinitely. More importantly, the indefinite renderings fit, i.e. they mirror quite well the sense of the underlying Greek:

    John 4:19: PROFHTHS EI SU
    (“a prophet” NRSV)

    John 6:70: DIABOLOS ESTIN
    (“a devil” NRSV)

    John 8:34: DOULOS ESTIN
    (“a slave” NRSV)

    (“a murderer” NRSV)

    John 8:44: YEUSTHS ESTIN
    (“a liar” NRSV)

    John 8:48: SAMARITHS EI
    (“a Samaritan” NRSV)

    John 9:17: PROFHTHS ESTIN
    (“a prophet” NRSV)

    John 9:24: hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
    (“a sinner” NRSV)

    John 9:25: hAMARTWLOS ESTIN
    (“a sinner” NRSV)

    John 10:1: KLEPTHS ESTIN
    (“a thief” NRSV)

    Note: At John 10:1, notice that there’s no difference between how KLEPTHS (=thief) is handled, which occurs before the verb, and LhiSTHS (=robber) is handled, which occurs after the verb.

    John 10:13: MISQWTOS ESTIN
    (“a hired hand” NRSV)

    John 12:6: KLEPTHS HN
    (“a thief” NRSV)

    John 18:35: IOUDAIOS EIMI
    (“a Jew” NRSV)

    John 18:37a: BASILEUS EI
    (“a king” NRSV)

    John 18:37b: BASILEUS EIMI
    (“a king” NRSV)

    So why are so many able to convince themselves that nouns change meaning when placed before the verb, despite the lack of compelling evidence? Paul Dixon gave the game away in his thesis:

    “The importance of this theses is clearly seen in the above example (John 1:1) where the doctrines of the deity of Christ and the Trinity are at stake. For, if the Word was ‘a god,’ then by implication there are other gods of which Jesus is one. On the other hand, if QEOS is just as definite as the articular construction following the verb because, ‘the dropping of the article…is simply a matter of word order,’ then the doctrine of the Trinity is denied.'” (The Significance of the Anarthrous Predicate Nominative in John), p. 2

    I applaud Dixon for his honesty in admitting that he felt it crucial to establish the existence of “qualitative” count nouns, because the two established senses jeopardize this preferred theology. Indeed, Dixon was so motivated to establish his theology that he only managed to find one solitary indefinite noun in all of John’s Gospel! Sound plausible to you? It doesn’t to me either.

    I see no reason for those of us who are not motivated by his theological concern to accept his speculative theory. I’m therefore with Griffiths, i.e. John 1:1c can either mean “the Word was God” or “the Word was a god”. Both are grammatically possible, and both should therefore be offered in our Bible translations, one as the chosen rendering and the other in a footnote.

  10. John 10:28-29 alludes to Deuteronomy 32:39 (LXX)

    John 10:28-29 interpret John 10:30.

    P1: God alone gives life and has a powerful hand (Deut. 32:39)
    P2: The Son gives life (Jn. 10:28)
    P3: No one can snatch the sheep out of the hand of both the Father and the Son (Jn. 10:28-29).
    C1: The Father and the Son have one or the same power [ability] (Jn. 10:30). Deuteronomy 32:39 amplifies the claim of Jesus as God’s equal in function.

    Later discussions and debates would construed it also as an equality of essence which I do believe has merit because how could someone function as divine without divine nature but this I think is a weak argument as divine agency could explain it so.Rather, we ought to interpret John 10:28-30 in light of Deuteronomy 32:39 which offers the strongest case in asserting ontological equality of the Father and the Son due to the inclusio of ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ (“See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me.”)

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