Making Sense of John 1:18 – “God” or “Son?”

My friend Dan Gill recorded and edited a short video discussion involving myself in which we talked about the finer details of the textual variant in John 1:18. I think it turned out really well. Interestingly enough, on this point Bart Ehrman and I are actually in agreement (see his discussion in The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, 78-82). See also Urban C. von Wahlde’s three volume contribution on The Gospel and Letters of John in the Eerdmans Critical Commentary series (2:16).

Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 11 – burial of Jesus)

down-from-crossIn this segment of my ongoing interaction with ‘How Jesus Became God’ I want to spend a moment responding to Ehrman’s suggestion that it is historically unlikely that the Romans (particularly Pilate) would have given Jesus’ corpse to his followers. He argues instead that the body would have been eaten by wild dogs or other animals. Ehrman devotes ten pages on his reconstruction of what he thinks likely happened to Jesus. He summarizes this section as follows:

In sum, the common Roman practice was to allow the bodies of crucified people to decompose on the cross and be attacked by scavengers as part of the disincentive for crime. I have not run across any contrary indications in any ancient source. (160)

I would like to take this opportunity to argue from nonbiblical sources that it is certainly plausible to suggest that Pilate, as a Roman, would have made an exception for the Jewish burial custom during the Passover, especially if the burial of the supposed political revolutionary Jesus would decrease the likelihood of a violent response on the part of his followers. My first witness whom I wish to call to the stand is Josephus, who indicates that the Romans were certainly sympathetic to Jewish customs:

We, on the contrary, owe our position in the city of Alexander, our privileges were extended by the kings, and those privileges the Romans have pleased to safeguard for all time. Apion has consequently attempted to denounce us on the ground that we do not erect statues of the emperors. As if they were ignorant of the fact or needed Apion to defend them! He should rather have admired the magnanimity and moderation of the Romans in not requiring their subjects to violate their national laws. -Against Apion 2:72-3 (Loeb translation)

The Romans, knowing the persistent stubbornness of many Jews during the first century to honor their ancestral traditions, made exceptions for them, as Josephus recounts. A similar exception is recorded by Philo of Alexandria, specifically in regard to Pilate:

[The Jews] entreated [Pilate] to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields; and, which had hitherto been preserved without any interruption, without being in the least degree changed by any king of emperor. -Embassy to Gaius 300 (Yonge translation)

As we can see, there are first century texts which indeed speak of Roman tendencies to make exceptions for the Jews in regard to their ancestral customs. I therefore argue that it is certainly plausible, from a historian’s perspective, that Pilate would allow a council member like Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of Jesus in order to perform a proper Jewish burial. Ehrman’s skepticism seems ill founded on this subject at least.

Review of Bart Ehrman’s book ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 10 – Johannine Prologue)

In today’s review of Ehrman’s new book on christology, I will examine his arguments regarding the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18). One of Ehrman’s primary theses is that the Synoptic Gospels have a low christology while the Fourth Gospel as, in his words, “an extremely high Christology.” One gets the sense that Ehrman is trying to push the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel in mutually exclusive directions based on how it (key word) might be interpreted. He shoots off a catena of proof texts from the Fourth Gospel in order to make his point. This may have the affect of overwhelming the unsuspecting reader, but I will attempt in this post to look closely at his arguments, in particular, regarding John 1:1-18.

Logos-is-the-greek-word-for-reason-or-for-wordOn page 273 Ehrman claims that the Johannine Prologue describes Christ as “a preexistent divine being–the Word–who has become human.” He goes on to remark that the “Logos in Greek–was sometimes understood to be a divine hypostasis, as aspect of God that came to be thought as its own distinct being…separate and distinct.” I will come right out and state that I think that this is a gross misreading of the evidence, particularly, the Jewish background regarding the Logos/Wisdom of God. One only has to look at the texts which almost certainly influenced the writer of the Fourth Gospel in order to get a sense of what he means when he uses the Logos in his Prologue. Consider the following passages:

 Yet these things You have concealed in Your heart; I know that this is with You. (Job 10:13)

For He performs what is appointed for me, And many such decrees are with Him. (Job 23:14)

What is with the Almighty I will not conceal. (Job 27:11)

We note here that in the book of Job, one of the more poetic parts of the Hebrew Bible, God’s decrees are “with Him.” This is very similar to John 1:1 where the Word was with God. Job is best understood as saying that, when God’s decrees are “with Him”, that his plans are in his mind and a part of his divine purpose. Other passages say a similar thing:

My son, if you will receive my words and treasure my commandments within you. (Prov. 2:1)

Proverbs, another highly poetic book in the Hebrew Bible, likewise speaks of words being within a person. They are decrees and commandments which are treasured within someone. Certainly this language is not to be taken literally, as if words literally exist inside of a person’s body.

And Wisdom is with you, who knows your works (Wisd. of Sol. 9:9)

All wisdom is from the Lord and is with Him forever. (Sirach 1:1)

The intertestamental literature, which are both full of poetry, follow the lead of the wisdom material located in the Hebrew Bible by describing God’s wisdom as being with God. This is not saying that wisdom, although highly personified, is an actual female figure alongside God. Rather, this is a metaphorical way of expression God’s wise intentions and interactions with His people, i.e., God acting wisely with creation.

So when we get to John 1:1 where the Logos was with God, I contend that these parallel passages should be given more weight in the interpretive process. The Logos, which is certainly personified in the fullest extent in the Prologue, was with God in the same way that God’s plans, decrees, and wisdom were with Him.  This suggests that the Logos is not a separate person alongside God, but rather a way of talking about God’s utterance which is certainly involved in creation. Consider the following passages and ask yourself whether they speak of a separate entity alongside God or not:

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Ps. 33:6)

To Him who made the heavens with understanding. (Ps. 136:5)

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up. (Prov. 3:19-20 cf. 24:3-4)

By his knowledge everything shall come into existence, and all that does not exist he establishes with his calculations and nothing is done outside of him. (1 QS 11:11, tr. Garcia Martinez)

By the knowledge of the Lord they were distinguished, and he appointed the different seasons and festivals. (Sirach. 33:8, my translation)

O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy, who have made all things by your word. (Wisd. of Sol. 9:1)

Worship the God of heaven, who causes the rain and the dew to descend on the earth and does everything upon the earth, and has created everything by his word. (Jubilees 12:4)

Wisdom being his mother, through whom the universe arrived at creation. (Philo, Fug. 109)

Wisdom, by means of which the universe was brought to completion. (Philo, Det. Pot. 54)

In these passages, all from within poetical wisdom literature. God creates things with his word/wisdom. This is a way of portraying God has having a powerful word, a word which speaks things into creation. It also portrays God as acting wisely within his creation, using his own wisdom in the ordering of the cosmos. James D. G. Dunn’s assessment of the evidence is striking:

“Prior to v.14 we are in the same realm as pre-Christian talk of Wisdom and Logos, the same language and ideas that we find in the Wisdom tradition and in Philo, where, as we have seen, we are dealing with personifications rather than persons, personified actions of God rather than individual divine beings as such. The point is obscured by the fact that we have to translate the masculine Logos as ‘he’ throughout the poem. But if we   translated logos as ‘God’s utterance’ instead, it would become clearer that the poem did not necessarily intend the Logos in vv.1-13 to be thought of as a personal being. In other words, the revolutionary significance of v.14 may well be that it marks not only the transition in the thought of the poem from preexistence to incarnation, but also the transition from impersonal personification to actual person.” –Christology in the Making, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 243, emphasis his.

What must be stated here, with emphasis, is that the word (Logos) and wisdom in these passages are not separate divine beings or hypostases alongside God. That would be to take the poetical writings and read them too literally and woodenly. And this, I contend, is what Ehrman (among others) has done with John 1. He sees the Logos and argues, implicitly, that this must be read literally rather than within the discourse of poetic wisdom literature wherein God’s word and wisdom is personified in acts of creation. A personification is not the same things as a distinct person. When Psalm 85:10-11 personifies righteousness and peace, are we to think that the psalmist is regarding them as hypostates or distinct persons? Or when the arm of YHWH is personified in Isa. 51:9 and described in feminine terms, is that arm now a distinct person alongside YHWH? Or maybe when repentance is personified in Jos. and Asenath 15:7-8 we should add him to the divine court of beings. Not likely, I suggest.

John 1 is best read as the personified Logos, which is active in creation and fully expressive of God, eventually becomes embodied in the human Jesus. Therefore Jesus speaks the very words of God (one of the primary motifs in the Fourth Gospel). He is God’s mouthpiece. If the Logos is properly understood in light of all the wisdom literature cited above, then John 1:1-18 does not indicate that Jesus literally existed as a preexistent being, as Ehrman argues.

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).


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.

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.

Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 6 – Acts 2:36)

Today I will respond to another section in Ehrman’s sixth chapter entitled “The Beginning of Christology.” On page 227 he begins discussing Acts 2:36, which comes at the tail end of Peter’s first speech in the Book of Acts. The passage reads, “Let the entire house of Israel know with assurance that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Ehrman correctly points out that the earliest followers used Psalm 110:1 as a support passage to refer to Jesus’ exaltation after his death. Sounds good so far.

Then Ehrman makes the following statement on page 228,

“During his lifetime Jesus’ followers had thought he would be the future messiah who would reign as king in the coming kingdom of God to be brought by the Son of Man, as Jesus himself had taught them, But when they came to believe he was raised from the dead, as Acts 2:36 so clearly indicates, they concluded that he had been made messiah already. He was already ruling as the king, in heaven, elevated to the side of God.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have to point out that a careful reading of what Ehrman has stated here reveals a clever cover up. He says that the disciples looked forward to Jesus reigning as king in the coming kingdom of God. But now, Jesus is instead reigning in heaven. Does Ehrman mean to argue that the early Christians no longer believed that Jesus would return to reign as king in the kingdom since Jesus is, in some sense, enthroned in heaven? It seems that Ehrman is subtly arguing that the disciples have changed their minds about the kingly rule of Jesus.

I don’t think even Ehrman believes this to be true. On pp. 107-8 he argues from his historical Jesus criteria that Matt. 25:31-46 almost certainly is a statement which goes back to the lips of Jesus. Matthew 25:31 states, on the lips of Jesus, that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, accompanied with his angels, will then sit on his glorious throne. The next two verses speak of a universal judgment which is to ensue. Matthew 25:34 records Jesus saying to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.”

In this passage, which Ehrman argues to be authentically “Jesus,” Jesus states that he (the Son of Man) will return with his angels, and at that point he will sit on his glorious throne. This throne is not the right hand position in heaven next to Yahweh. It is, rather, the promised throne of David covenanted to the future Messiah. This perspective in Jewish messianic thought can be observed in the following texts:

“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.”‘ (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isa. 9:7)

“I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, I will establish your seed forever and build up your throne to all generations.” (Psalm 89:3-4)

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

It seems that Jesus, in Matt. 25:31, has in mind the idea of the throne of David covenanted to the coming Messiah. The throne of David always existed on earth, namely, in Jerusalem. The act of enthronement spoken of in Psalm 110:1 and Acts 2:36 culminates in heaven.

If the author of the first Gospel preserved this saying of Jesus, added it to Mark’s material around the year 80 CE, then how can it be true, as Ehrman contends, that the disciples changed their minds about the kingly rule of Jesus?


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.

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.


Review of Bart Ehrman’s ‘How Jesus Became God’ (part 1)

ehrmangodI have for a long time waited for the release of this book. I remember emailing Dr. Ehrman back in 2008 and discussing a few small details concerning this book at that time. Now it has been released and it is certainly as controversial as the rest of his publications.

Unfortunately, I am disappointed with his efforts.

These posts will be a series of responses to various parts of the book. Today’s post deals with his section entitled ‘The Angel of the Lord as God and Human’ (chapter 2).

Starting on p. 55, Ehrman begins to build his case which argues that within the multifaceted expression of Judaisms, “divine” beings, as he calls them, could indeed become human. I will begin my objection with his terminology. The phrase “divine” is not a term to which everyone ascribes the same definition, thus proving to be less helpful in this manner of discourse. Does calling someone divine mean that they are Yahweh? Does it mean that they are superhuman? Do demons fit this description? Are they immortal? Are they all-powerful? The questions can go on, but I contend that the word “divine” needs to be jettisoned from these types of discussions.

Ehrman goes on to describe the account in Genesis 16 when the Angel of the LORD appears to Hagar. A dialogue ensues where the angels speaks as if it were God himself. In Gen. 16:13 Hagar expresses her shock that she had “seen God and remained alive after seeing him.” Ehrman concludes the following:

“either the Lord appears as an angel in the form of a human, or the Angel of the Lord is the Lord himself, God in human guise.” -p. 56

So either God showed up, literally, in person, as a human being, or the angel is God. Sadly, the most likely option is not stated by Ehrman, which is that angels are messengers who speak on behalf of their sender. This is the widely known principle of agency. Even the rabbis repeatedly wrote that “an agent is as the one who sent him” (m.Ber 5.5; b.Baba Met 96a; b.Hag 10b; b.Qid 42b; b.Men 93b; b.Naz 12b).

The article on angels in the TDNT states that, “Even in the most developed angelology the angels only serve to execute and reveal the power and deity of Yahweh; they are his court, and train, and ambassadors.” (1:81)

Ehrman seems to be aware of the principle of agency as an interpretive option available to him because he cites a note (in his discussion of the same theme in Exod. 3:1-22) in the HarperCollins Study Bible (no doubt to support his own publisher) which says that:

“Although it was an angel that appeared in v. 2, there is no substantive difference between the deity and his agents.”

See? He knows that the angels represent God as his agents, but he fails to give this option as an interpretive choice, which is by far the most convincing in my opinion.

Ehrman also quotes from Charlces Gieschen who argues that the passage could easily be read as seeing the angel as “a distinct figure, separate from God, who is bestowed with God’s own authority.” See? There again Ehrman is aware that agency is an scholarly answer to interpreting the angels who speak on behalf of God. Yet sadly, Ehrman does not find this argument convincing enough to push forward. Surely he is aware that the Hebrew for angel, malak, means both a messenger as well as one of the angelic hosts. The messenger both represents the sender in every way while remaining a distinct person (or self) from him or her. This, I argue, is obvious.

This is just one of many parts of this book that made me disappointed. Ehrman is a great historian, but it seems that he has room for improvement in his biblical interpretive skills.