Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 8 – Gal. 4:14)

paulAlas, I unfortunately have to return to responding to Ehrman’s interpretive choices with which I disagree. On page 252 he begins a section entitled ‘Christ as an Angel in Paul’ which is giving me plenty of material to blog about.

The first passage he works with is Gal. 4:14 which reads, “Even though my bodily condition was a test for you, you did not mock or despise me, but you received me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.” Ehrman’s remarks about this passage are quite shocking,

I  had always read the verse to say that the Galatians had received Paul in his infirm state the way they would have received an angelic visitor, or even Christ himself. In fact, however, the grammar of the Greek suggests something quite different. As Charles Gieschen has argued, and has now been affirmed in a book on Christ as an angel by New Testament specialist Susan Garrett, the verse is not saying that the Galatians received Paul as an angel or as Christ; it is saying that they received him as they would an angel, such as Christ. By clear implication, then, Christ is an angel…As the Angel of the Lord, Christ is a preexistent being who is divine; he can be called God; and he is God’s manifestation on earth in human flesh. -pp. 252-3

I am sure Ehrman is aware that ἄγγελον θεοῦ can just as easily be translated “a messenger of God” without carrying the connotations of one of the angelic host. Paul certainly uses ἄγγελος in both senses in his letters. The context has to determine whether the angelic or the generic messenger is intended.

Note carefully such passages as 1 Cor. 11:10, “Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, on account of the messengers” (ἀγγέλους). Human messengers are almost certainly in view in this passage. Another relevant passage is 2 Cor. 12:7, Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan (ἄγγελος σατανᾶ) to torment me– to keep me from exalting myself.”

It is also important to note that elsewhere in Paul (I’ll stick to the undisputed letters) that Jesus is described as a human being, not as an angel. Consider the following:

-For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:21-22)

-So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45)

-[the gospel] concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh. (Rom. 1:3)

-But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law. (Gal. 4:4)

Paul regards Jesus as a human being, a genuine member of the human race. Jesus was the second “Adam” (a word meaning human being) who chronologically came after the first Adam. Jesus was a human descendant from the lineage of David and was “born of a woman” (a typical way of talking about human birth, cf. Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; Matt. 11:11).

Another important point which I wish to make is that, in the passage at hand, the Greek actually says ὡς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν, “as Christ Jesus” (Ehrman writes “Jesus Christ”) The Galatians received Paul in his weak state just as if he was an angelos, as Messiah Jesus. The title “Christ” is given to the office of Messiah, which is never used of a preexistent being in the Hebrew Bible.

In short, it is far more likely that Paul, in Gal. 4:14, writes angelos to refer to a generic messenger, i.e. Christ Jesus, who is the human Messiah.


4 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 8 – Gal. 4:14)

  1. About 1 Cor 11:10… is that right? Why then do all (?) the translations say “angels” and not “messengers”? And why would human messengers (from whom?) be relevant to meeting attire? I’m willing to be convinced… perhaps you can give us some extra info from a commentary?

    1. Yeah, Paul has in mind human messengers who are peering into the new Christian communities. The reference is Bruce Winter’s “After Paul Left Corinth” (I’ll get the page number when I get back to my office).

      1. Here is the quote:

        One of Paul’s arguments for the veiling of married women while praying and prophesying was ‘because of the messengers’ (διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους). While it has been traditional for this to be translated ‘because of the angels’, the term was also uses of a ‘messenger’. The word ‘messenger’ in the first century did not necessarily imply that he was only the bearer of messages. It was also used of the conveyor of information about whose he visited to the person on whose behalf he had been sent. The role of the messenger in the ancient world was not confined to the delivery of verbal or written information from a sender. For example, Epictetus, writing in the early second century A.D., records, ‘What messenger is so swift and so attentive as the eye?’ (2.23.4). Moreover, a messenger could be sent ‘as a scout’ to report back, as Epictetus also noted (3.22.23-24). In discussing the role of the Cynic philosopher he observed that the present time can be compared to a war situation where the Cynic cannot operate as he would normally do; if he did he would destroy his role as ‘the messenger, the scout, and the herald of the gods that he is’ (3.22, 69-70)…The role of information-gatherer who reports back to the sender appears to be what Paul is concerned about. (Bruce Winter, After Paul Left Corinth, 136-7)

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