Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 5 – Rom. 1:3-4)

Those who have the book will notice that I have moved from chs. 2 and 3 on into ch. 6. I am not haphazardly skipping over the two chapters on what historians can and cannot know about the resurrection (chs. 4 and 5). I simply wish to interact with the more christological aspects of this book. Much of my theological and graduate training has been in the area of christology, so I am attracted to such discussions. My philosopher and history buff friends are, arguably, more apt to interact with chs. 4-5.

Ehrman’s sixth chapter is entitled ‘The Beginning of Christology.’ He starts his inquiry by looking into the pre-Pauline traditions (hymns and creeds) preserved within the texts of the New Testament. The first of these pre-Pauline traditions discussed by Ehrman is the creedal statement preserved in Rom. 1:1-4. The text reads as follows (my translation):

1. Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, marked out for the gospel of God

2. which was previously promised through His prophets in the holy scriptures

3. concerning His son, begotten out of David seed, according to the flesh

4. marked out as son of God in power according the the spirit of holiness from the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our lord

Within this pre-Pauline creed is an abundance of Jewish messianic theology. Firstly, the “promise coming from the prophets in the holy writings” indicates that the early believers found, in Jesus, a christological identity which conformed to the expectations of their heritage. They could look at the prophets within the Hebrew Bible and check off, in a sense, the qualifications of the office designated ‘Messiah,’ based on what they came to believe and preach about Jesus’ person.

One of these qualifications is my second point: Jesus is the human descendant of David. Ehrman is familiar with 2 Sam. 7:12-14, where God promises the monarch David, through the prophet Nathan, that the royal line will endure forever. The descendant of David, according to 2 Sam. 7:14, will be called God’s sonWe also learn from that verse that God will be his FatherI stress the tense in both of these propositions because it is popular in modern theologies about Jesus and God to say that there was never a time when the Son didn’t  exist, which presumes that God was always a Father in relation to that very eternal Son. 2 Sam. 7:14 says otherwise. God will be his Father and the descendant of David will be His son. The Chronicler in 1 Chron. 17:11-14 makes sure that this reference is not confused for Solomon, strongly suggesting a messianic reading of that promise during the composition of the book of Chronicles.

We also know from the Qumran texts that the title Son of David was understood in Jewish circles messianically. In an important text in the Dead Sea Scrolls called 1QSa 2:11 we even get a sense of Israel’s God’s relationship to the Messiah:

“…when God begets the Messiah”

In some sense I have digressed. Back to 2 Sam. 7:12-14, where this descendant of David will be understood as God’s own son. “Son of God” was a title of the Davidic king, a human descendant from his line. The same can be seen from Psalm 2:7 where the king of Israel is called God’s son.

Why am I stressing these points? Ehrman sees in Rom. 1:3-4 a contrast between the son of David (1:3) and the Son of God (1:4). It is true that Paul contrasts the two. However, the specifics of that contrast are not taken seriously by Ehrman. In Rom. 1:4, Jesus, upon being raised from the dead, is designated son of God in power. It is not the case that Jesus was not the son of God prior to his resurrection, for the messianic office of the son of David was equivalent to being called “son of God” (2 Sam. 7:14; Psalm 2:7). Ehrman is, I think, aware of these points because he writes on p. 222 that, “Jesus was the descendant of David (which was a requisite, of course, for the earthly messiah).” You see there? Ehrman is aware of these “requisites” as he calls them. Those requisites are noted in 2 Sam 7:12-14 (which he quotes on p. 77). Unfortunately, those requisites seem to only matter to the early Christians and Paul, but not for Ehrman, who is trying to ascertain the beliefs of the early Christians and understand this passage in Paul’s epistle to the Romans.

Ehrman needs to be quoted in order to get the true sense of his misunderstanding (or misrepresentation). Ehrman writes on p. 222 that,

“the idea that Jesus was made the Son of God precisely at the moment of his resurrection is also stressed.”

Precisely at the moment of his resurrection? Go back and read Rom. 1:1-3 which talks about God’s gospel, promised beforehand, concerning His son. There! Son of God is there identified as the human descendant of David. Apparently when Paul writes περὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ in Rom. 1:3 this should not be understood as Son of God for Ehrman.

Later Ehrman says,

“Jesus was “appointed” (or “designated” the “Son of God” when he was raised from the dead” (p. 224).

No sir. Jesus was God’s son when he was brought into existence as the seed of David (τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ τοῦ γενομένου ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυὶδ κατὰ σάρκα).

Let me reiterate. There is a difference between Jesus prior to his resurrection and exaltation. Paul says that he is, in Rom. 1:4, designated son of God in power…Jesus Christ our lord. James D.G. Dunn, in his Romans contribution to the Word Biblical Commentary, notes correctly that the emphasis on Jesus being “our lord” is a direct allusion to Psalm 110:1, where Yahweh exalts the human lord (Hebrew adoni) up tho God’s right hand. This reference to Psalm 110:1 is, unfortunately, not mentioned by Ehrman in his treatment of Rom. 1:4, although he does mentions it earlier in this book, showing that he is aware of it. However, if he were to admit that it is in Paul’s mind (or even in the mind of the composers of this pre-Pauline creed) then it would give away his argument which unfairly differentiates the human Messiah (prior to his death, Rom 1:3) and the resurrected exalted lord (Rom. 1:4).

misquoteIn short, Ehrman, conveniently, fails to note three important facts in his interpretation of Rom. 1:1-4. First, he fails to take seriously the fact that the Son of David was understood as the Son of God. Second, he misquotes Paul, leaving out the fact that Jesus was designated Son of God “in power” at the resurrection. Thirdly, Ehrman fails to see (or admit) the reference to Psalm 110:1 at the end of Rom. 1:4, which would mark out that the Son of God in power has, powerfully, been exalted to the position of lordship as described in that psalm. Ehrman has a book called ‘Misquoting Jesus.’ Ironically, Ehrman has now Misquoted Paul.

I expected better from Ehrman. Now it is time for a refill of my Starbucks iced coffee.

6 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 5 – Rom. 1:3-4)

  1. A question was asked “2 Samuel 7:13-14
    He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings.”

    Did Jesus commit iniquity? Was he punished?

  2. Even though Jesus is called ‘his Son’ in v. 2, it does not follow that this was the case prior to the resurrection (at least not if we look at this text alone). If I were to write: “Hearken to the good tidings of President Obama, the one born in Hawaii and who was elected to be the President of the United States of America in power from the year 2009.”. I am not claiming that Obama was the president when he was born, nor am I denying that Obama was elected president at a specific moment in time despite the who having “President Obama” as its anaphoric reference, no?

    1. Thanks for replying. The difference between Rom. 1:1-4 and your analogy is that sonship is given to offspring of their respected fathers at the moment of their births while “President” is a title. “Son of God” is not a title given to Jesus. I feel that Paul, when talking about Jesus being born out of the seed of David, is thinking the most natural way to explain sonship, i.e., becoming the child of one’s father at the moment of their conception.

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