How God Became Jesus: Part 1 In Review of the Evangelical Response to Ehrman

In the spring of my senior year in high school I showed up to take the dreaded “AP Exam” for English. As I walked in the door, the person checking IDs asked me whose class I was in. Learning that I was in Dr. Hudgins’ class, the person rifled through a stack of 3×5 cards and found the one with my name on it:

Daniel, You have a good mind and a good sense of humor. Today, use your mind.

The lesson of that 3×5 card is one that I continue to learn, often faltering.

Reflecting on Michael Bird’s contribution to the volume, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman, I find myself wishing that he had had a Dr. Hudgins, someone to set him on a trajectory of learning the appropriate time for entertainment versus the appropriate time for serious mental exertion. Failure on this point leaves Bird’s chapters a sorry mix of condescension, foolishness, and fear.

The current post is an interim report on my read-through of the volume Bird edited. By “interim report” I mean that I’ve read just about half the book, and am responding not to the book as a whole, but to the Preface and Chapters 1 and 2.

The book is the collective work of five scholars, but all of what I’m responding to in this post is by Michael Bird.

As the title suggests, the book is a response to Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God, which I reviewed here last week (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). In a blog post, Bird referred to this book as a pre-emptive pastoral apologetics. That description is apt. Bird’s pieces are for rallying the insiders and defending their faith, not for serious engagement of academic issues. How God Became Jesus-Cover

It is difficult to describe Bird’s work as anything other than clownish. Being no stranger to rhetorical flourish myself, I nonetheless encountered in these chapters argumentation through impressionistic assertion rather than scholarly response of any academic credibility.

The great “apologetic” depends on rallying the troops with conclusions such as:

…we think that his overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chick-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoire [sic.] (p. 8)

How helpful.

When Bird turns to assess Ehrman’s Christology, he once again “aids” the reader in framing the issue: “Ehrman’s view of Jesus is low, so low in fact that it could probably win a limbo contest against a leprechaun.” Where was Bird when the Nicene Fathers needed him?

[Mis]Representation

Bird then goes on to misrepresent Ehrman’s view as “essentially evolutionary” (p. 11).

Ehrman himself, however, contends that the Christology of the New Testament did not “evolve” in a straight line. In Ehrman’s introduction he says, “The idea that Jesus is God… was the view of the very earliest Christians soon after Jesus’ death” (p. 3).

More to the point, and in direct contradiction to Bird’s characterization, Ehrman writes: “The problem with this chronological sequencing of the Gospels is that it dos not reflect the actual chronological development of early Christian views of Jesus… some Christians were saying that Jesus was a preexistent being (the “later” view) even before Paul began to write in the 50s—well before our earliest Gospel was written. The reality is… views of Jesus did not develop along a straight line in every part of early Christianity and at the same rate. Different Christians in different churches in different regions had different views of Jesus, almost from the get-go” (p. 237, bold type added).

Ehrman’s view of Christological development is not “essentially evolutionary.”

At several points in the book there are such missteps from Bird. The explanation, it seems, is to be found in a blog post in which Bird describes his inspiration for the book. He saw a poster advertising Ehrman’s forthcoming work, and decided a response was needed, “knowing where it was probably going.” It looks to this reader as though Bird was mistaken about the book’s “probable” content, and was not sufficiently chastened in the direction of his work by Ehrman’s actual argument.

For instance, at several points along the way we find Bird claiming that notions of Jesus’ divinity were thoroughly at home in Jewish contexts, and not dependent on Greek ideas. One might think that Ehrman makes such an argument–the old evolutionary argument about Christology that developed after leaving the safe confines of Judaism. Except, of course, that this is not what Ehrman argues.

Bird is responding not to Ehrman, but to Charlie Moule’s depiction of evolutionary Christology published in 1977 (p. 11).

For his part, Ehrman makes a case for how Paul and those from whom Paul inherited traditions such as the Philippians 2 Christ hymn, might have imagined Jesus to be a preexistent being, identified with YHWH, from Old Testament (!) precedent (e.g., p. 61).

Question Begging
In addition to misrepresentation, perhaps the gravest sin of these chapters is the question begging.

We repeatedly find Bird reiterating the language of Jesus as “Son of God” or “Christ” or “one enthroned at God’s right hand” as though such language answers the debate in favor of his understanding of early high Christology. I note the shift from Mark 8:29, Jesus’ query that elicits the confession that Jesus is “Christ,” to a claim that the answer to Jesus’ question is the Nicene Creed (p. 46).

Bird moves from describing Jesus as “agent” to identifying him with YHWH on p. 57, and from one who can “forgive on God’s behalf” to “unmediated divine authority” on p. 58. How is agency “unmediated”?

Or again, Jesus is “exalted above” all powers, but this is supposedly an indication of “inherent” superiority (p. 38). Why not an achieved superiority? “Son of God” and “Lord to Son of David” are thought to be further indications of God’s very own incarnate presence (p. 59). Or, “manifestation of Israel’s God”—what does this mean, what would it look like?

The whole point of the debate is to answer the question of what such appellations of Jesus actually meant for the first writers and hearers. To move from the existence of such titles to the conclusion that they support a particular view is to beg the question—the alternative readings and interpretations have to be carefully investigated; the conclusion preferred has to be confirmed by evidence.

Bird does develop arguments at some important points in his work, for instance, in his discussion of the son of man. Those arguments are to be welcomed, even if they jump from “human being” to one who is much more than a “miniature throne buddy” (p. 66) without accounting well for the shift. But any argument is better than assertion, and there is some argumentation in these pages as well.

On Early High Christology
In the early pages in which he lays out the terms of the debate, Bird wants to demonstrate the great work of the Early High Christology proponents whose studies allegedly contravene Ehrman. In doing so, he cites Martin Hengel: “more happened [in Christological development] in this period of less than two decades than in the whole next seven centuries.”

I had seen this quote before. Quite recently in fact! It is cited approvingly by Bart Ehrman who is affirming the tremendous amount of Christological development that happened before the Christ hymn was penned that appears Phil 2. This is an early clue that Bird has failed to grasp the nature of Ehrman’s argument.

Also, Bird here cites an evangelical, Hengel, who agrees that development happened. Throughout his study, Bird cites such scholars. But in his own articulations of early Christology, Bird is not willing to concede any particular point at which such development has taken place. He instead clings tightly to Richard Bauckham’s claim that “the earliest Christology was already the highest Christology” (cited approvingly on p. 16).

From “In” to “As”
In developing his own Christological picture, Bird engages in some sleight of hand that allow him to present arguments as though they make his point, when in fact they do not quite make the final leap his position requires.

One such move he makes is the insertion of the word “as” into statements of the relationship between God and Jesus (pp. 16, 28).

It is one thing to say that God is made known “in” Jesus, and that God is identified “with” Jesus. Any number of studies will confirm this. However, Bird makes the additional step of then saying, the God of Israel is known “as” Jesus, something that his predecessors have tended to be more careful to avoid.

God is known “in” many things in the Jewish tradition: in the Torah given to God’s people; in the behavior of the people in obedience to that Torah; in moments of deliverance; in moments of destruction. God is so identified with such things that God’s identity is shaped by them: God becomes the God of Abraham, or the God who calls into being the things which do not exist, or the God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt. This does not make Abraham God, or the Exodus divine. Bird assumes an implication of “divine identity” that cannot be sustained.

Leaning on the Richard Bauckham Arms
Bird leans heavily on Richard Bauckham’s standards for assessing divinity, especially whether a being shares in God’s sovereignty and worship. However, this does not become a lens for assessing the early Jewish or Christian tradition, it becomes a lens for asserting that Jesus is uniquely considered divine while (a) describing the cases of others who share God’s sovereignty and worship as though they actually don’t (e.g., Enoch’s son of man, Israel’s Kings, Moses in the work of Ezekiel the Tragedian); (b) remaining silent about the instances where others share in these prerogatives (e.g., 1 Chronicles 29:20 where both God and the king are worshipped), 1 Chronicles 29:23 where Solomon sits on YHWH’s throne); and (c) assuming (not demonstrating) that Jesus shares this sovereignty and worship in some qualitatively different way (this third point is another instance of question-begging, as Bird does not demonstrate that Jesus shares sovereignty and worship in some qualitatively distinct way—he assumes and asserts it).

Bird comes close to capturing what we see so often in the Gospels when he says, “… it is probable that Jesus understood himself as a divine agent who uniquely shared in divine prerogatives, embodied God’s sovereignty, and identified his work with God’s action in the world.” He seems incapable of recognizing that to be an “agent” might very well indicate that one is operating on delegated authority (see also his discussion of the Son of Man on p. 66). Indeed, throughout the chapters, especially chapter 2, Bird asserts (does not argue) that Jesus acts with unmediated divine authority–a claim that cannot be sustained even in the Gospel of John.

How much more shall I say?

  • In disputing Ehrman’s method, Bird complains that his interlocutor relies too heavily on parallels with ancient sources. But this is the exact same historical method taken up by both Bauckham and Hurtado, whom Bird depends on, to stake their claims to an early high Christology: parallels demonstrate ranges of possibility and impossibility, showing what is likely old hat and what may be novel.
  • The question-begging continues in Bird’s assertion that the Christ event made Christians rethink their ideas about God. Yes. Fine. But to say we’ve “rethought God” means, first and foremost, rethinking what God has done and what this means for God’s identity (the God who gives life to the dead), not reimagining the divine ontology. That did, in fact, take longer.
  • Bird complains of Ehrman’s use of the “criterion of dissimilarity” only to deploy it himself when convenient to his cause.

On Peanut Butter and Jelly
As I was reading one particular section, it seemed to me that the book evinced two particular deficiencies: too strong a Nicene hermeneutic being brought to the biblical text, and lack of awareness about the significance of the words that Bird himself had put on the page. Bird argues that Paul’s letters evince a “clear binitarian devotion” (28). The evidence? These verses: “To the church of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you” (1 Thess 1:1); Gal 1:3-5, where Paul wishes “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself… according to the will of God our Father.”

How, exactly is this binitarian? In every instance, God is “the Father.” Jesus is not. Jesus is Lord. As Paul will say in 1 Corinthians: “There is but one God, the Father… and one Lord, Jesus Christ.” When Paul says God, he does not mean the binitarian Father-Son complex. He means the Father.

When Bird goes on to illustrate how this conjunction of God and Jesus is allegedly binitarian, he says the two go together “like peanut butter and jelly, like Australia and kangaroos, like cheese and wine, or like baseball and beer!” (I’m not making this up.)

I think that, in fact, for all its silliness, this string of analogies is probably right on target: Bird is suggesting in each case two distinct things that are nonetheless taken together as somehow inseparable. This provides a possible way forward to understanding Paul’s Christology.

However, instead of recognizing that here is a conjoining of God with Jesus, the exalted second Adam, the man through whom came the resurrection of the dead, the man who will in the end turn over the Kingdom to the God and Father so that God may be all in all (1 Cor 15), Bird instead pulls the “Jesus is God” rabbit out of the peanut butter and jelly hat: “The God of Israel is revealed in, through, and even as the Lord Jesus Christ.” Is peanut butter actually Jelly? Is Australia actually a kangaroo?

Etc.
It goes on. One wonders why Bird simply asserts that no Jewish person ever depicted someone as sharing divine worship or sitting on God’s throne rather than engaging (and admitting the existence of!) Jewish literature, including the OT, that depicts both.

Bird warms up N.T. Wright’s idea that Jesus saw in himself the return of Yahweh to Zion. And in the question-begging manner that plagues the chapters, never stops to ask what a Jewish person might have expected that return to look like “from below.”

For instance, might the Ezekiel text that speaks of God shepherding and gathering God’s people, for God to be king over them, and then goes on to speak of David being shepherd and prince tell us what Yahweh’s return would look like from below? Bird cites this passage only to say, “Now obviously this does not mean that David is YHWH, but neither is David just a kind of subcontractor” (56).

In other words, the passage demonstrates that Jewish people might conceive of God reigning over Israel, and God returning to Israel, precisely through a human agent who is not YHWH Himself. “Not a subcontractor” is one instance where the buffoonery that plagues the chapters displaces what needs to be a critical argument.

We Can Do Better
Throughout, Bird’s “pastoral apologetic” uses and depends on better traditionalist scholarship (Hurtado, Bauckham, Hengel) without the nuance or understanding that generated it, leaving the informed reader more dubious about the claims for Jesus’ divinity in the texts considered than when the reading began. The force of the essays depends too much on an impressionistic conclusion that Ehrman is laughable, as indeed Bird has attempted to make us laugh—only, ultimately, to leave himself looking the fool.

We must do better.

I am not willing to surrender the label of evangelical, but if we’re going to make it, we have to get over the defensiveness and assertion of our own ideas that keeps us from being able to do good scholarship and even to learn from those who do not share our label.

Fear drives Bird’s project. And fear will always cloud our judgment. The fear becomes clear in the final paragraphs, where he asserts that if Jesus didn’t think of himself as divine then the Christian canon and creeds are meaningless.

I refuse this syllogism.

On this logic, must we then go on to say that if Jesus did not know himself to be part of the eternal Trinity then the canon and creeds are meaningless? Must we scour the Gospels for historical evidence of the homoousion?

Please.

Perhaps most importantly, the defensiveness of this posture makes it impossible to listen to the Gospels, to the Bible we actually have. While “Jesus is God” makes a good reading of John, it blurs our eyes to Jesus the “son of David” in Matthew, to Luke’s “man attested by God,” and even to Mark’s “son of God” who is “son of man.”

In short, my assessment is that an evangelicalism that has Ehrman as its chief foe is in better shape than an evangelicalism that has Bird as its great champion.

A part of me wants to apologize to Bird for this, perhaps the most negative review I have ever written, but in truth I feel that he owes an apology to the rest of us–to us who consider ourselves evangelicals and are about the difficult business of engaging critical and historical scholarship for the sake of the church, and perhaps most especially to the other contributors to this volume.

As a final note, I should say that this book is not a complete loss. I have read the chapter by Craig Evans on the burial of Jesus, which offers a better model of responding to historical claims with historical scholarship. So stay tuned.

43 thoughts on “How God Became Jesus: Part 1 In Review of the Evangelical Response to Ehrman”

  1. I’m very interested in knowing if you think Jesus can be divine without being God. If whether or not you see the trinity as a tri-part godhead or, as one pastor said, “on who and three what”.

    I’ve really appreciated your review of Ehrman’s book and was humored by this one. Sometimes things are just too “bad” to let them pass.

  2. A minor quibble that doesn’t touch on the main lines of your argument, either positively or negatively. It is not obvious to me that it is appropriate to use the label “evangelical” in relation to Bauckham, Hurtado, and Hengel. It is clear, of course, that much self-consciously “evangelical” scholarship of various stripes has relied heavily on their work, but do these three scholars fall so clearly under the “evangelical” label? I am especially uncertain about whether the label is appropriate to Hengel, but it is also not obvious that it works for Hurtado, and there is at least some uncertainty in relation to Bauckham, if I am not mistaken. Perhaps it does fit, depending on who is doing the defining, but I still think it is a question worth raising. In any case, I do not recall Hengel ever claiming this designation for himself, and I think the same might hold true for Hurtado and Bauckham, though you are certainly free to set me right in relation to any of the three! I realize, of course, that this quibble could be seen as an insignificant matter in relation to the much more important issues that you are grappling with in your post, but I think it matters because the way that “labels” are invoked and developed can play an influential role in how these issues are presented and addressed within the scholarly community and beyond. All the best, Wayne

    1. I don’t know, wmcopplns, Bauckham, Hurtado, and Hengel all offered glowing praise of Bowman and Komoszewski’s unimpressive “Putting Jesus in His Place”, which suggest that if they don’t profess to be Evangelicals, they are at the very least cut from the same cloth vis a vis their commitments.

      ~Sean

  3. Hi Daniel, thanks for providing these continuing reviews of both books. I have not yet had a chance to read either but laid out my view at the moment about how I see a few main lines of Christological development (http://ntmark.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/thoughts-on-the-latest-christology-smackdown/). I did have a question for you. I appreciate your appeal to the Jewish category of agency with the kings of Israel or divinized humans (Enoch, Moses) or the Angel of Yahweh as important precursors, but do you think if Paul or even earlier creeds are beginning to associate Jesus with the figure of wisdom and creation that we are seeing a fully divine Christology (1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:15-20 if the latter might be Pauline)? I get that a figure like wisdom or other personifications of divine attributes are described in the language of agency, even as the first and greatest creation in Proverbs, but are these metaphors for speaking about God’s immanence in the world and by transferring them to Christ speaking about how God acts in, through and as Christ?

  4. Instead of focusing on Michael Bird’s writings, I’d suggest you and all evangelicals focus on these points:

    1) What is the point of engaging with the new testament theology if the original “inspired” autograph readings cannot be determined. I challenge you to demonstrate that the [A] variant reading in the Nestle Aland or UBS corresponds to the original autograph readings for any of the NT documents. If you cannot even determined what the original autographs words contained then why are reading the content?

    2) The old testament does not discuss the christian concept of messiah.

    3) Lastly, if it cannot even be demonstrate that Jesus was on the cross in the first place why waste the energy and effort to humiliate “Dr.” Michael Bird’s work. Pretty much all christian theology is false because it is built on a false premise.

    The first NT document date approx 20 years after Jesus’s disappearance from Paul’s account in Corinthians.

    Even if we ASSUMED paul received oral tradition with eyewitness testimony. How reliable is eyewitness testimony? I suggest you study the innocenceproject.org work in using DNA evidence to exonerate innocent people who were accused on strong eyewitness testimony.

  5. I have read both HJBG and HGBJ, and your complete review of the former as well as this first installment of your review of the latter are much appreciated. I thought HJBG had lots of useful info/references even if you don’t subscribe to all of Ehrman’s ideas.

    Regarding HGBJ, I wish I would have invested in a case of beer rather than this book. To me, if it wasn’t for the chapter by Evan’s (the one redeeming chapter in the book), I’d be at the book store asking for my money back, but hey that’s just me.

  6. I did not find where Bird said the book he edited was a pastoral apologetic, but I did find in the first sentence of his preface that the book was meant “to offer a critical response” to Ehrman’s book. However, I find your post to be condescending to an apologetic that reassures believers or preaches to the choir, as if that is a bad thing in this challenging world. The Chick-Fil-A story is not used as a point in an argument but to characterize an impression about Ehrman’s book that one might have after reading the arguments of all the authors in Bird’s book.. Therefore, I think you should cut Bird some slack on that comment. When Bird characterizes Ehrman’s depiction of the process whereby Jesus came to be identified with the God of Israel as evolutionary, in context I think he means simply a gradual process, and he quotes Ehrman to that effect. Also, for a popular level book, I find Bird’s book to be remarkably critical. I am a Fuller graduate and philosophically trained. I could follow a scholarly engagement with Ehrman. Nonetheless, Bird’s is a valuable book for Christians and unbelievers who are not trained in biblical exegesis or historical study. A little more humility and concern for those who need a book like this would be refreshing. That Bird was mistaken about the “probable” content of Ehrman’s book cannot be the explanation for Bird’s “missteps” because Bird, et al were given an advance pre-publication copy of Ehrman’s book by the publisher (HarperOne & Zondervan are imprints of the same publisher which timed the books to be released on the same day). I apologize if my tone has become like what I am criticizing and I thank you for your patience.

    1. Hi, Zac, thanks for your thoughts.

      If I thought that Bird’s work was valuable for pastors I wouldn’t have been hard on it here. There are tons of books whose exegesis, for instance, I find questionable, but commend to people because I believe they are helpful. No so Bird’s, in large part because the argumentation is bad, and perhaps in larger part because it creates the impression that for Christianity to be viable, certain (in my view, unsustainable) conclusions have to be maintained at all costs.

      Yes, I know Bird had a prepress copy. But sometimes our expectations are hard to overturn!

    2. People who cannot follow the scholarship, people who need lay treatments, people for whom apologetics serves a function by defending them well—these people deserve good scholarship in accessible language. There’s no reason to lower the bar here. It should be even higher! What is forgivable in academic writing, done for an audience that is readily capable of correcting any problems, is execrable in popular teaching to an overly-credulous audience that cannot see the problems for themselves, much less correct them without help. James 3 is absolutely relevant here. Teaching is a higher burden, and it comes with higher liabilities.

  7. O.K., upon further reflection I also wish that Bird’s book had turned out better than it did. I acknowledge that there is some question-begging and circular reasoning. I also think that Bird gives Ehrman to much credit at times. Ehrman is not simply an objective scholar; he desires that Jesus not be God.

    1. “Ehrman is not simply an objective scholar; he desires that Jesus not be God.”

      Compare:

      ‘Ehrman is not simply an objective scholar; he desires that Aphrodite not be a goddess.’

      ‘Ehrman is not simply an objective scholar; he desires that Vishnu not be a god.’

      Your statement is thus rather revealing, precisely because it is entirely backward (indeed, it exposes the circular reasoning criticized in previous discussion). The scholars who possess the bias are those who are motivated by their desire that Jesus be a god (according to their particular religious beliefs). Do keep this point in mind.

  8. I still find it interesting to read man’s critic about things which are only understood by faith. No one will come to ‘know’ God or understand ‘who’ He is by scholarly study, but by following their heart and consciously doing what is right. I don’t know how else to state this phenomenon, other than: one has to believe the Word in order to ‘see’ Him or in order to understand Him.

    It is this same faith Daniel had when he didn’t mind being thrown into the Lion’s den… or his three companions faithfully refusing to bow to Nebuchadnezzar and surviving the flames without a hair being singed… it is this same faith Joseph had when he was sold by his brothers, endured being falsely accused, yet still was faithful to God in doing what is right and obedient to his masters, later becoming the one to help save the known empire of that time from scarcity… the same faith Moses walked into Pharaoh’s court and demanded his tribe be released from bondage… the same faith Abraham, after the Lord speaking to him, left all he knew and traveled west… it is by faith one will know God, not by much study nor much thinking… faithful living. If one doesn’t believe the depictions of God moving in the old and new testaments, why are they surprised to not understand ‘who’ this God is?

    Regarding Yeshua: imagine yourself trying to communicate with ants. How would you interact, communicate and help the ants? As it is, you being a human being, you are a giant in the sight of an ant… and the ants most likely can only see the end of your finger… not your entire body. Imagine how ominous a sight if you were an ant and this gigantic being is interacting with you. Now let’s depart thinking about ants when considering humans and let’s think about God and humans. A Being without human definition is making attempts to communicate with humans. This Being decided to create creatures with similar characteristics as to His. Think now of Adam, the first man, made in His ‘image.’ Looking at a photograph of yourself, you can ‘see’ yourself in that photograph, but the photograph isn’t you, per say. It is an ‘image’ of you; a much lesser representation of you. Now think of what God did when He made you, me and every other person who has ever lived and is living today. How was He to directly communicate with them and prove and fulfill things He promised long ago? How was He to legitimize His own promises? How was He able to give people hope for things to come in the future, even the hope of eternal life? We all get a sense that death is going to be a part of life and understand we will cease to breathe at some in our time ( the fear of death and fear of the unknown after death ).

    He accomplished this by becoming a human, as was promised ( the good shepherd, King, etc., all the ideas and earthly attributes necessary for common people to understand, like the mentioning of sheep and pastures, what herdsmen and farmers could relate to ), and brought hope for life after death by returning to life after being killed. He proved it, and this proof made such an impact on those who walked with Him that their lives were forever changed. The majority of them suffered death due to what they believed, yet were undeterred and fearless in the face of death! They spread the good news of life after death everywhere they went… yet this ‘faith’ isn’t easily achieved, thus why ‘faith’ itself is considered a gift!

    Yeshua, in making things as simple as possible when speaking of heavenly and spiritual things, made most reference to the Father ( bringing people into an intimate father-son relationship with God Almighty ). A commoner can understand the importance of a son, an heir to his toil and labor; a son is the most important investment when considering a legacy and continuance of values. Yeshua made the connection of what it meant to be a true follower / believe / worshiper of God by referencing a relationship with a heavenly Father. He exemplified the behavior of such a faithful son in Himself! On most occasions He would direct all attention towards the Father, in order to teach His disciples and anyone who desired to follow / know God, what it was like and what it took to be what God intended with Adam in the garden. He taught them to pray to the Father, to always consider the Father… and further promised the Holy Spirit ( a part of God to lead people’s hearts and conscience ) to the believers. He taught them that being religious isn’t the “way,” but doing good to others and being honest with yourself when others are not around ( worship in spirit and in truth ) is what the Father is looking for, and this is the Way He exemplified and established… even dying for His friends, relatives and those who would later believe who may have been condemning Him at the time ( think of the Roman soldier who exclaimed “surely He was the Son of God.” Yeshua is the example for us to follow, and He even stated looking at Him was looking at the Father… yet because of man’s limited thinking, suspicions and religious blindness, it is easier to say He is the Son, again taking a humble position and giving all glory to the Father ( which is what we are supposed to do ). We are dealing with a God who is beyond our understanding, but the words that best describe Him are: generous, ever-loving, patient, humble, kind, gracious, forgiving, gentle, caring, faithful, etc..

    Regarding scripture forecasting God Himself working directly with His flock, without a man / prophet:

    “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteous Savior.”

    - Jeremiah 23:5-6

    “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats.’”

    - Ezekiel 34:11-17

    My friends, these things are to be read in belief, not in a critical vein nor in suspicion, but in joyful glee that you have at arm’s reach the Words of eternal life!

    1. Then why not like the jews only hold to the the old testament as scripture and dismiss the new testament. The christian concept of messiah isn’t taught in the old testament

      1. Edmundo’s seeming dismissal of historical-critical ways of reading Scripture may well either be ignored or scoffed at a bit here; but I think he’s onto something. Despite Walther Bauer’s effort to see “heresies” as prior to “orthodoxy” in the first two centuries, I think Irenaeus and others (eg Origen, himself a heretic by later standards, and Tertullian) found in the regula fidei a way of reading the OT and understanding Jesus in incarnational terms, a way that I think can be traced back to Luke 24. (True, “Luke” seems to represent an “adoptionist” understanding of Christ in the speeches found in the early chapters of Acts; but his gospel portrays something else.)

        Irenaeus believed, by the mid-first-century, that “apostolic teaching” could be found to be uniform in all the major churches of “apostolic foundation,’ all the way (we may assume) from Edessa in the east to Spain in the west, and attributed that uniformity not only to shared scriptures (a kind of proto-canon?) but to the unwritten teachings of the apostles and to the “rule of faith” itself. But how did the unwritten/oral teachings differ from the “secret teachings of Jesus” proclaimed by gnostic groups? For Irenaeus, what the apostles said, they said openly, something that could be “verified” by the existence of common teachings all over the Mediterranean world. The gnostics, by contrast, were whispering in dark places and kept the full story away from all but a select elite.

        Given the “ecclesial dimension,” a lot of things in the gospels begin to cohere. Lacking that dimension, we are almost dealing with fragments; the things that the original hearers “knew” are missing because we can’t seem to trust the living voice of churches in continuity with the earliest congregation. We end up with one-sided phone conversations and have to try to imagine what’s being said on the other end of the line. Perhaps, just perhaps, we do have access to what Jesus said in Luke 24 when he gave his disciples a Christological (“they’re all about me”) reading of the OT. Perhaps there are ways of blending all four gospels together through “the eyes of faith,” ways that are grounded in ecclesial experience and not simply in privately and personally revealed insight.

        Despite works like Richard E Rubenstein’s WHEN JESUS BECAME GOD, which sees no incarnationalism before the fourth century, we have every reason to believe that the Trinitarian and Christological affirmations that came to expression in the councils of the fourth and fifth centuries and beyond were already “sensed” by earlier centuries and “merely” needed to be given full articulation under the pressure of (dangerously) heterodox views.

        I would add to Edmundo’s “faith in the Word” an added dimension, “faith in the Body of Christ” where Christ is present in his Spirit, giving discernment to the body as a whole to assemble the pieces of apostolic teaching (written and unwritten) in ways that (to borrow from Irenaeus) present us with the mosaic of a king and not a fox or a dog. No need to dump historical/critical study; but is it enough for a “document” that requires more than disinterested scholarship. “Spiritual things are spiritually discerned.” I think it might be time to see “prayer” (liturgical and ascetical) as a necessary tool in the scholar’s toolbox. Interesting that both conservatives and progressives alike might wince and wiggle at this suggestion.

        1. Thank you Charles for acknowledging my response, peace be with you!

          Thank you also for your points made.

          I think the miracle of God becoming man, rising from the dead and establishing an everlasting kingdom that will never cease while crushing all other kingdoms, is often times made more convoluted and complicated than need be. Why do men look to the writings of others to support what the Word of God already states?

          Perhaps if men spent more time faithfully obeying His Word and doing the Lord’s work, like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and clothing the naked while living a righteous life and removing the pollutants of the secular world… and less talking about their perceptions of God, maybe others would clearly ‘see’ exactly who this amazing God is ( the lifestyle that complimented the disciples as they spread the gospel )… and the evidence of God’s Way will be understood by them. Perhaps Christ / God would be more evident in their lives and they wouldn’t need to question or doubt what the scriptures teach.

          The lifestyle is defined in Romans 12, stating what “your spiritual act of worship” is. It says elsewhere “whoever wants to become greatest among you must become your servant.” Yet, reading the words of so many men past and present, they seem to be spinning their wheels and seem to be more interested in the tasty morsels of ideas, much writing, much talk, looking at the words and thoughts of other men while ignoring the thoughts and Word of God… they are less involved in plowing the fields, planting the seeds, watering, feeding, helping, etc.

          What really are they doing?

          How is God edified and others helped with talking and arguing over words instead of putting their hands to the plow?

          Look at what happened here:

          “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”

          2 Timothy 2:14-18

          We can read how the above passage happened in later years… and is even more evident today.

          The core message to be believed is that a man rose from the dead. Isn’t this, after all, what those gentiles at the house of Cornelius believed and thus were sealed with the Holy Spirit? They further believed the fulfillment of prophecy, the Messiah having come and having established His kingdom… and so many other wonderful things ( praised be His Holy Name! ).

          What does it say here ( part of this being one of the passages Yeshua used when being tested )? -

          “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to him and revering him.”

          - Deuteronomy 8:1-6

          I continue to stress “believing the Word” and “doing” because from what I read of man’s opinions regarding God / Christ, both past and present, is that many don’t seem to believe the Word of God… thus why they go into much dialogue and opinion and to the words of other men… instead of putting the Word to God into faithful action and experiencing God for themselves!

          What is revealed here? –

          “To the Jews who had believed him, Yeshua said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

          - John 8:31-32

          - belief that Yeshua is the Lord / Messiah / God with us
          - holding to the teaching
          - really His disciples
          - you will then ‘know’ the truth
          - you’ll be free from sin ( being blind )

          The point is made most clear here:

          “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”

          - James 1:22-25

      2. Bayze Nkhs,

        If I may respond to your words:

        From this believer’s perspective, the entire old testament is pointing towards Immanuel ( God with us )… interlocking different points in time, calling Him by different titles, with all these prophecies coming to fruition with Yeshua. So yes, the Messiah concept is absolutely described in the old testament as my faith allows me to see it. I shared two old testament passages earlier in the week.

        For the non-believer’s, I would imagine the interpretation runs the gambit of the individual’s perspective, religious upbringing, etc.. whether they are Jewish and hold fast to their traditional views and what their priests teach at temple of rejecting Yeshua as Messiah because they have forgone the basic commands and instead follow their own rules… Muslims interpreting Yeshua as another prophet while ignoring His divine attributes mentioned in the Quran and placing more emphasis on a descendent of Ishmael rather than of Isaac ( from whom salvation comes – Samaritan woman teaching – )…. to the neutral scholar who takes an interest in the subject and adds his own taste without believing the scriptures to be actual accounts of events and the prophecies speaking of things to come.

        If only people would take the leap of faith and try it on their own. Although this asking people to break the mold of their cultures, their stereotypes and their upbringing… yet this is what Yeshua calls all people to do, in order to bring them into unity with the body of believers of every culture, tribe, religion and tradition ( Romans 2 ).

        These matters and arguments are not won by logic, nor can be understood by aptitude and neither by convincing others with the use of many words and ‘empirical evidence,’ but just as ‘who’ Yeshua was revealed to Simon, these matters are revealed to whomever truly desires to believe and to the humble, as it says:

        “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

        - Jeremiah 29:11-13

        “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

        - Matthew 7:7-8

        “Then people brought little children to Yeshua for Him to place His hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Yeshua said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

        - Matthew 19:13-14

        At that time the disciples came to Yeshua and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to Him, and placed the child among them. And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my Name welcomes Me.

        - Matthew 18:1-5

  9. I haven’t read either book yet, but your description of Bird’s contribution reminds me a bit of a once-famous controversy of the seventies, the “myth of God incarnate” battle, in which the estimable Michael Green (an evangelical Anglican) rallied some heavy-weight “orthodox” theologians like Herbert McCabe and John Macquarrie (both of Oxford) to dash off quick rebuttals, all of which were put into a book called THE TRUTH OF GOD INCARNATE. The general response, as I recall, was the book was premature, thin, and basically not up to the task. A “rush to judgment,” we might say.

    Now to read both books, with your words and others in mind. I admire Michael Bird and think he’s astonishingly gifted in many ways. But I’m also inclined to think he writes too much and too quickly. There’s a kind of manic quality to his manner which is both a blessing and a curse (a point he may agree on). If his effort (and his fellow contributors’) turns out to be like Michael Green’s effort, I hope they’ll get together and put out something more substantial. They’re all a gifted bunch; but there’s a temptation for super bright people to be (in the words of David Hubbard) “more clever than profound.” Bart Ehrman’s mastered the “attention getting” technique and needs to calm down a bit himself. The Bauer Thesis has been thoroughly critiqued for years, and Hurtado and Bauckham and others have made major contributions to “early high Christology.” Now’s time to join forces with patristics scholars and theologians who know the 2nd century and beyond thoroughly and offer the kind of critique that the “myth” advocates of the seventies faced in Charlie Moule, Graham Stanton, Stephen Sykes, Lesslie Newbigin, and others. All hands on deck!

  10. Charles Twombly and Daniel Kirk,
    Would be nice to hear your thoughts on Simon Gathercole’s chapter. If I have it right – his chapter is partially dependent on his 2006 The Pre-existent Son book. Daniel, in light of your comments about the synoptic gospels, am I correct in thinking that you probably disagree with important aspects of Simon’s book? Also, are you closer to James Dunn’s Christology in the Making?

    1. Haven’t read Simon’s chapter or his 2006, though I have them both, Ferdie. Short of seeing his argument laid out, I tend to see Mark (in a Dunn-like way?) as being suspectible of an “adoptionist” reading IF IT WERE OUR ONLY GOSPEL; same with Matthew (and Luke): if we had no more than this, we might conclude that Jesus was “divine” by virtue of what Socinian’s might call a “conception Christology” (ie no pre-existent Son). Would love to think Simon’s done a demolition job on my characterizations here; in the meantime, I tend to think we need the Fourth Gospel to give us the proper way of reading the other three. Perhaps Dunn sees the synoptics in contradiction to John: I don’t. In fact I do see a heartening link between Mtt 11:27/Mk 10:22 and John 1:18, something that really repays exploring. Thanks for good questions. Still working on the case down here in Georgia! (I come at these things as a “patristics guy,” one, however, who tries to keep his hand in biblical studies almost equally.)

  11. Excellent review, professor Kirk. Thank you for saving me from handing over my hard-earned money for the response to Ehrman, which is obviously more frustrating than enlightening. Ehrman’s book has its shortcomings too, but it provides a fine contribution to the dialogue by expressing what many scholars already know in a manner that is attractive to the general public.

    Ironically, some of the weakest points Ehrman makes appear to reveal leftover vestiges of the same sorts of influences that kept Bird’s song from being heard beyond the choir, e.g. Ehrman’s comments about John 10:30 and John 8:58.

    ~Sean

  12. Thank you for your answer Daniel! You did not answer the question relating to Dunn’s Christology in the Making however. Hove you read it? Also, have you read in FULL Hurtado, Hengel and Bauckham before making the claims you make in your review of Bird’s chapter?
    I wonder whether you remember me. We saw each other briefly at Tyndale House, UK when you came over with an Earl Ellis grant or something, together with Joel Willits and a couple of other “young upcoming scholars”. I gave you and Joel copies of Karl Barth, “Rudolf Bultmann – An Attempt to Understand Him”, in Kerygma and Myth. A Theological Debate [ed.] by Hans-Werner Bartsch, [trans.] by Reginald H. Fuller [London: SPCK, 1972])? – after discussing a possible change in Bart’s later work …

    Looking forward to your reviews of the other chapter in HGBJ.
    Best regards

  13. I forgot to add Daniel: Would your PhD supervisor, Richard B Hays agree with your view that “Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is an idealized human figure”?

    Best regards

    1. Ferdie, I do remember you. Good to hear from you here.

      On your substantive questions: I’m not entirely on board with Dunn; one way that Ehrman improves on Dunn is with his greater allowance for a diversity of views to be held at the same time, rather than arguing for a linear evolutionary idea.

      I do not think Richard Hays would agree with me. We’ve talked about this once, and I have heard him deliver a paper on Jesus’ identification with YHWH in Luke’s Gospel at an SBL meeting. I think that there is a possible answer to the Christology question that is not sufficiently considered, and found Hays’ paper to fall into that same rut.

  14. Thanks for this review Daniel. Somebody up above questioned whether Bauckham, Hengel and Hurtado would qualify as evangelicals. I think all three would best be characterized as moderately conservative NT scholars who are evangelical-friendly. Of the three, Hengel was perhaps the most theologically conservative by disposition. For all his massive learning, Hengel was not ashamed to admit he saw his scholarship as a tool for Christian apologetics. Hurtado comes from an evangelical background, but he tries extremely hard to bracket out his personal leanings when engaged in historical research.

    I’ve read Ehrman’s book, but not the response volume. They didn’t even get the manuscript until around December, so that gave them, what, three months to write their reply? That’s just not enough time to write a thoughtful rebuttal.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think agency language precludes the highest possible Christology in the Synoptics. After all, even at Nicea, there is a clear numerical distinction between Father and Son (no modalism), so nothing prevents divine agency from pointing to the Trinitarian relations.

    1. No, nothing prevents it. But that’s the sort of reasoning that I find all too thin for this project. If we assume Trinitarian relations, then we can make all sorts of things fit with it. But that’s a different matter from those other things pointing toward a preexistence Christology. The question we have to ask is whether certain kinds of agency require it. That’s where things get dicey, and other options are opened up.

    2. Paul Owen, I’m not sure what the point is that you intended to make with this comment: “I’ve read Ehrman’s book, but not the response volume. They didn’t even get the manuscript until around December, so that gave them, what, three months to write their reply? That’s just not enough time to write a thoughtful rebuttal.”

      Are you implying that (1) Ehrman somehow wasn’t “fair” to the authors of the response book…that he should have given them the manuscript earlier than he did? Or are you saying that (2) the authors of the response book acted stupidly by contracting to write response book by a certain date before they even knew what Ehrman’s book was going to say?

      The clear answer is number 2. The authors made a stupid decision that may have resulted in a worse book than they would have otherwise written. (I’m not going to grant that that they could do much better, because what they did write was ridiculously poor.) Ehrman had no obligation to give them the manuscript at any point in advance of publication.

      1. Phil, I can’t comment on the quality of their work, since I haven’t read it. But they would have been wiser to plan on preparing a rebuttal that could be ready by the time ETS/SBL rolled around in November of 2014. Even that would have been a tight deadline. The biggest problem for Ehrman’s view is that there simply is no precedent within Judaism for a second figure being viewed as the proper recipient of cultic reverence and devotion alongside God. No Jews adopted other chief agency figures into their formal patterns of worshipping the true God. That is why early Christian binitarianism is such a novelty. And yet this development took root within Jewish-Christian circles from the earliest years of the Christian movement. There just isn’t any room for a gradually progressive understanding of Christ’s divinity, pushing from an adoptionist towards an incarnational Christology.

        1. I think Ehrman indicates in HJBG that there were at least two strands of early christology, one of which (the earliest as evidenced in the Phil 2 poem) was indeed incarnational. A second strand evidenced in the synoptics was exaltation christology which seemed to develop over time. Ehrman also acknowledges the gospel of John as representing the highest christology, however doesn’t devote much time to linking it to the earliest strand (incarnational). I think Bird et al inadvertently imply that the Ehrman’s view is solely that of adoptionist with a gradual development of incarnational Christology. Possibly the authors began working on the HGBJ before they had fully gone through Ehrman’s manuscript given the short time?

  15. Good point Daniel! I’ve written an essay on Mark’s Christology (tangentially in response to Ehrman) for a forthcoming volume, where I argue that Mark’s use of the “son of God” title points to Jesus being God’s pre-existent divine agent, along the lines of God’s son in 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra. But you’re right, the case has to be made, not only asserted.

  16. Another point I think should be raised is that while it’s true that Ehrman thinks Paul’s exalted angel Christology was in the mix from a very early period, he does clearly believe the “earliest” Christology was the one he finds in Acts 13:33 and Romans 1:2-4, wherein the human Jesus becomes God’s divine son at the resurrection. He thinks this is pushed back to Jesus’ baptism in Mark, his conception in Matthew and Luke, and finally as the pre-existent Logos in John. So there is a general evolutionary development at play in Ehrman’s view, though Paul’s novel angel Christology muddies the waters a bit.

  17. Thanks for this. Somehow it has happened that some readers of the story of Jesus and the paralytic (Mark 2.1-12) have thought that the scribes’ question is the christological key here rather than Jesus’ answer (along with the response of the crowd, in Mark and especially in Matthew).

  18. That’s an excellent insight, Pete!

    - Calling the paralyzed man “son.”

    - Forgiving him.

    - Knowing in His Spirit what the critical / judgmental men were thinking in their hearts.

    - He made it ‘easier’ for them to comprehend it seems, pointing to His Messianic reality ( Son of Man title and ‘authority’ on earth to forgive sins ).

    That’s quite a profound passage!

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