Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 9 – Rom. 9:5)

WWIDHere is another installment of my continuing treatment of Bart Ehrman’s newest contribution to christology.

Today I will look at Romans 9:5, which is one of those passages which, objectively, can be translated with two or more different christological outcomes. For the sake of continuity I will use the two translations provided by Ehrman (p. 268):

“from them is the Christ according to the flesh, the one who is God over all, blessed forever, amen.”

I will call this translation, wherein Jesus is “the God over all”, option A.

“from them is the Christ according to the flesh. May the God who is over all be blessed forever, amen.”

I will call this translation, where Paul ends Rom. 9:5 with a doxology to God, option B.

As responsible interpreters, we would like to get into the mind of Paul and attempt to understand what he is trying to convey to his Roman audience. In particular, we are interested in how he personally uses “God” language. Does he, unambiguously, call Jesus “God” in other passages? What do scholars have to say? Since Ehrman is quite fond of the late Raymond Brown, I thought I would see what he had to say on the matter. In Brown’s book Jesus: God and Man (New York, Macmillan: 1967) he spends the first chapter asking if the New Testament applies the title of God to Jesus. He categorizes three different sets of verses: passages where Jesus is clearly distinguished from God, passages which are dubious, and passages where Jesus is clearly called God. Raymond Brown places Rom. 9:5 in the dubious category (p. 20). On this point, Ehrman seems to be in agreement.

James Dunn, in his fat book The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) suggests that, in regard to Rom. 9:5, the title “God”:

can hardly be other than the one God, the Creator, elsewhere described by Paul (in his benedictions!) as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -p.257

Dunn here rightly directs his readers to Paul’s benedictions as the rightful barometer in assessing how Rom. 9:5 is to be understood. When we take Dunn’s advice, we find such passages within the Book of Romans itself like the following:

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

The doxology here is referring to the Creator, i.e., the Father (not Jesus). Later in the epistle,

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has become His counselor? Or who has given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.
(Rom. 11:33-36)

This doxology is also referring to God the Father, the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible (as the citation from Isa. 40:13 indicates).

It seems that within the Book of Romans the doxologies in 1:25 and 11:36 are reserved to God the Father and not to Jesus. What about the doxologies in other Pauline epistles? For the sake of Ehrman’s arguments I will stick to the undisputed letters.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5)

Here the doxology refers to God the Father, unambiguously. Another helpful doxology is located in 2 Corinthians,

The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. (2 Cor. 11:31)

This passage accomplishes three things which I deem helpful for the present study. First, Jesus has a God, who is called the Father. Secondly, we see that Rom. 9:5 is not the only passage where the doxology seems to fit awkwardly in the context. Since Paul often dictated his epistles (cf. Rom. 16:22), this sort of abruptness is not unexpected. Thirdly, this doxology is again reserved for the Father.

It can now be stated that Paul traditionally reserves his doxologies for the Father. He never unambiguously attributes a doxology to Jesus (option A). He never unambiguously calls Jesus “God” in his letters either.

In short, while Rom. 9:5 is ambiguous on grammatical grounds, it seems very likely that Paul, based on his tendencies and behavior observed elsewhere, is reserving the title “God” for the Father (option B).

 

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2 thoughts on “Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 9 – Rom. 9:5)

  1. Tricky verse. The most natural way of understanding the Greek would be to view the doxology as being in reference to Christ. True, the doxology is applied to the Father in the other instances, but such an argument can be turned around: every time we encounter the doxology the subject always preceeds ευλογητος, therefore it is refering to Christ in Rom 9:5.

    In the book Pauline Christology, Gordon Fee has given rock solid arguments against the doxology to Christ. Check it out.

    Two things I wish to bring to the table:
    1) If “God over all” is in reference to Jesus, then we need to observe that it is not merely Christ, but Christ according to the flesh. Is Jesus humanity God?
    2) The biggest problem I have (which oddly enough is rarely ever raised) is that in the next verse θεος is clearly in reference to the Father. If we are not modalists, then we can not claim that God in verse 5 means the same as in verse 6, which seems quite akward.

  2. In light of all we know today about the flexibility of divine names and titles in pretty much all literature from the biblical period (OT, DTS, Philo), I find it puzzling to observe that there are still (a) Unitarians who resist the notion that Christ may have been described as “god over all” by Paul, and, though not necessarily here, (b) Trinitarians who think that calling Christ “god over all” somehow refutes Unitarianism.

    Since Paul wrote in an age when a monotheistic Jew, Philo, could refer to Moses as “god and king” of the whole Hebrew nation* (and, by contrast, Christ was comparably god and king “over all” [i.e. not just Jews]), and since there’s no compelling evidence that Paul thought that Jesus was the same God as the Father, I don’t see a problem with allowing that he may have called Jesus QEOS at Rom 9:5. Indeed, as I’ve observed elsewhere, including on my own blog (http://kazesland.blogspot.com), to wit:

    “Once we recognize (a) the flexible use of such divine titles in the biblical period among monotheistic Jews, and (b) the contexts in which such applications were considered appropriate, then we come to realize something we might not have expected: Not only is it not surprising to find divine titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament, but it in light of his unique status as God’s agent par excellence, it would be downright shocking to find that such titles were not applied to him!”

    ~Sean

    *http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book24.html

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