Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 7 – birth narratives in Matt/Luke)

I finally found a good section of Ehrman with which I heartily agree. Despite my previous posts, which may seem that all I do is disagree with the book, I do occasionally find points of commonality. Ehrman argues for a conception christology in Matthew and Luke based upon their respected birth narratives. His comments are most helpful on this point:

I should stress that these virginal conception narratives of Matthew and Luke are by no stretch of the imagination embracing the view that later became the orthodox teaching of Christianity. According to this later view, Christ was a preexistent divine being who “became incarnate [i.e., “human”] through the Virgin Mary.” But not according to Matthew and Luke. If you read their accounts closely, you will see that they have nothing to do with the idea that Christ existed before he was conceived. In these two Gospels, Jesus comes into existence at the moment of his conception. He did not exist before. -p. 243

angelEhrman is spot on here. I only want to add to his argument here and hammer it harder. Matthew’s account begins with the record of the genesis (γενέσεως) of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham (Matt. 1:1). The evangelist then spends the next seventeen verses tracing the lineage of Jesus Christ through his ancestors, starting with Abraham and culminating in his mother Mary. The Greek text has around forty “begats” (ἐγέννησεν) coming from genao, the verb which means “to beget/generate.”  The climax comes at the end when Jesus is brought into existence in the womb of Mary, as the text reads, “Mary, out of whom was begotten Jesus” (Μαρίας, ἐξ ἧς ἐγεννήθη Ἰησοῦς, 1:16).

Matthew 1:18 continues the discussion with the words, “Now the genesis (ἡ γένεσις) of Jesus happened this way.” The narrative goes on to describe how Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but found herself miraculously with child due in part to the holy spirit. Joseph wanted to quietly send her away. However, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as you wife, for the child who has been begotten in her is of the holy spirit” (ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου). Very simple christology here. Jesus  is generated in Matt. 1:18 and is begotten in Mary out of the holy spirit in 1:20. Absolutely no preexistence here.

Luke 1:35 come at the climax of the Lukan birth narrative. Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her, “The holy spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, and for that reason the holy child begotten (τὸ γεννώμενον ἅγιον) will be called the son of God.” Similar to Matthew’s birth narrative, Luke emphasizes that Jesus was begotten inside Mary because of the miraculous power of the holy spirit. Luke, like Mathew, does not advocate a preexistent son of God becoming human. Luke specifically states that it is because of the miracle birth that Jesus is the son of God.

Ehrman is correct in his assessment of the christology within the Synoptics. I will have more to say about John’s christology in some later posts, so stay tuned.

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5 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 7 – birth narratives in Matt/Luke)

  1. Simon Gathercole thinks the “I have come” and “I was sent” statements in the Synoptics indicate preexistence. He thinks they don’t mean simply, I have come from Nazareth or Galilee, but I have come from heaven. What’s your take on that?

    1. I think Gathercole makes too much of these statements. He has, rightly in my opinion, come under rebuke for these sorts of arguments. Consider the following points:
      -You, O Vespasian, think no more than that you have taken Josephus himself captive; but I have come to you (ἥκω σοι) as a messenger of greater tidings; for had not I been sent by God to you, I knew what was the law of the Jews in this case? (Jos. War 3:400) Josephus was certainly not sent from heaven, despite his talk of coming and being being sent by God.
      -The psalmist states that “Behold, I come (ἥκω); In the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Your will, O my God; (Psa 40:7-8) The psalmist was certainly not sent from heaven. This passage is also quoted in the NT (Heb. 10:9).
      -John the Baptist is referred to as the Elijah to come (Mark 9:11-13). Jesus almost certainly has Mal. 3:1-2; 4:5-6 in mind. Yet no one seriously thinks that John was preexisting in heaven.
      -The disciples were “sent into the world” just as Jesus was sent into the world (John 17:18).

      Hope that helps.

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