What do I think about the latest response to Bart Ehrman? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
It’s time for your regular book due out around Easter that will silence the Christians once and for all. This time, it’s Bart Ehrman who has written “How Jesus Became God.” Fortunately, a group of Christian scholars were allowed to have a copy of the manuscript and have already written a response. Doubtless, the response will not be read by internet atheists who are never interested in reading both sides of an issue and all the scholarly data that they can, nor will it even be read by new atheist leaders. Instead, as I made this image a few days ago, I want to give people a preview of what they can expect after Ehrman’s book comes out.
I was sent a copy in advance courtesy of Zondervan seeing as Charles Hill, one of the writers of this book, had agreed to be on my podcast for an interview and apparently in talking about that, it was decided that it would be good to have a show based on this book. It is amusing to hear Michael Bird’s description of Ehrman’s book that I was sent and can be found in the introduction of “How God Became Jesus.”
“While Ehrman offers a creative and accessible account of the origins of Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the day, 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—which is to say, not convincing at all.”
Yes. As far as I’m concerned, Michael Bird stole the show. Michael Licona has called Michael Bird a new rock star in the New Testament world. I can see why. Since his chapters in the book are first, it is apropos to start with him. I actually found myself laughing a number of times throughout reading what Bird says. How do you beat hearing someone say that Ehrman’s view of Jesus is so low that it could win a limbo contest against a leprechaun?
Bird has excellent information as well on what was and wasn’t considered divine in the world of Second Temple Judaism and about the view that Jesus had of himself. Throughout what the reader sees is what Craig Evans, the next writer in the book, says about Ehrman. Ehrman is simply on a flight from fundamentalism. He still has the same mindset as to how Scripture should be that he had as a fundamentalist. His loyalty has just changed.
Bird points out that too often, Ehrman gives into a parallelomania, a condition where he sees ideas that he thinks are related but really aren’t. This is the same thing that is done with the idea of Jesus being based on dying and rising gods, which is interesting since Ehrman argues against this idea in “Did Jesus Exist?”
Moving on to Evans, Evans deals with the idea that Jesus was not buried and shows that Ehrman just hasn’t interacted with the latest archaeological evidence. He points out that in many cases, crucified people would not be buried, but that Jerusalem would certainly be a different scenario due to Jewish laws and rituals and such. He also points out that Paul as a Pharisee would certainly have seen Jesus as buried and raised meaning raised bodily. Evans takes us through numerous archaeological findings and writings of Jewish Law to convincingly make his point. (This would also deal with Crossan’s view that Jesus’s body was thrown to dogs.)
After that, we have Simon Gathercole. Gathercole writes on the pre-existence of Jesus to deal with the way that the early Christians saw Jesus. He points out that Ehrman seems to switch back and forth between Christologies based on the idea he has before coming to the text, including the tunnel period, the period between 30 to 50 A.D.
I found it amusing to hear about how Ehrman wants to know the primitive Christology of the early church. (Keep in mind, he does not once also interact with Bauckham, who is part of the Early Highest Christology Club. Not once.) The reason this is amusing is that Ehrman is constantly speaking about how we have such great uncertainty about the text, yet he wants to take this text he thinks is so uncertain, and use this uncertain text to determine oral tradition in it, which we can only know from the uncertain text, and from that oral tradition get to what the early Christians believed about Jesus. Why is it that Ehrman is uncertain about the text but certain about the oral tradition that predates the text that he has no direct access to?
Gathercole also points out that the NT does not quote the OT in a straightforward way. He uses the example of the slaughter of the infants at Bethlehem. Rachel did not literally weep. Also, the slaughter was in Bethlehem, not Ramah. Still, Ramah is close to Bethlehem and Rachel is seen as one of the mothers of Israel. (Though interestingly, she would not be the mother of the tribe of Judah.) The NT simply did not use the OT the way Ehrman thinks it did.
After this, we come to Chris Tilling who writes about the interpretative categories of Ehrman. Tilling points out that Ehrman bases the Christology of Paul on Gal. 4:14, which is hardly the main place to go to find out Paul’s Christology. Ehrman, for instance, does not at all interact with the Shema, which would mean how it is used in a passage like 1 Cor. 8:4-6. Ehrman also says 1 Thess. is likely the earliest Christian writing that there is, yet he does not interact with the Christology in that letter either.
To make matters even worse, the only extended argument with Paul’s letters is the extended exegesis of Philippians 2:6-11. This is an important passage for Paul’s Christology, but there are numerous more passages. Amusingly at places like this, Tilling says Ehrman does not do the work of a historian. One can almost picture Tilling saying “Put some ice on the burn. It will help.”
Finally, we have Charles Hill who looks at church history and the deity of Christ there. He goes through several sources in the church fathers to show that this was indeed the reigning view and wasn’t some aberration as Ehrman would have you to believe. He also points out that the paradoxes that Ehrman thinks should be so embarrassing don’t really seem to embarrass the church fathers at all nor the writers of Scripture.
He also deals with the idea that the charge of killing God given to the Jews led to their persecution. Hill points out that Islam has a non-divine prophet who is not a Christian and has been responsible for going after the Jews. What is that to be blamed on? Does this mean Christianity has always been innocent of anti-semitism? Nope. Does this mean that that anti-semitism is justifiable? Nope. Does this mean that Ehrman overstates his case? Yep.
Finally, we have a conclusion from Bird wrapping up the whole piece. He reminds us of what was argued against in the previous chapters and wraps up with a conclusion that the orthodox view is correct. It’s not that Jesus became God, but that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus.
If there was one flaw that this book has in light of all the great benefits it has it is this. There is no index. The book would be greatly benefited to have an index to look up terms and Scripture passages and other parts like that. The notes are extensive and helpful, but I do hope future editions have an index.
Still, for those wanting to see another great response to Ehrman, it would benefit you to read this one. After all, you can be sure the internet atheists that you’re interacting with won’t be reading it.