I’m continuing to work through Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and Bird’s (et al.) How God Became Jesus. You will find each piece in the series here. In this post I’m summarizing Simon Gathercole’s response to Ehrman’s presentation of exaltation Christology in How God Became Jesus and giving a few of my own thoughts.
How God Became Jesus (Gathercole)
Turning to How God Became Jesus, Gathercole argues that Ehrman is splitting hairs in order to create artificial Christological division in the NT. His response to Ehrman is made up of three parts: 1) Christology in the Synoptics, 2) the preliterate traditions, and 3) a different take on the “exaltation” texts.
First, Gathercole challenges Ehrman’s statement that the Synoptic Gospels have no concept of preexistence by drawing on his own scholarly work The Preexistent Son and highlighting the “I have come” sayings (Mark 2:17; Matt 5:17; Luke 12:49, etc). In total, these sayings cannot be reduced to Jesus traveling from one place to another, but are better seen as coming from heaven to earth.
Second, he turns to the preliterary texts. I’ll only summarize Rom 1:3-4 for the sake of space. Ehrman holds that the creed behind Rom 1:3-4 presented a different Christology than Paul’s and that Paul added “in power” to make it conform to his own view. So the logic goes: the text behind Rom 1:3-4 didn’t contain “in power”; this would contradict Paul’s theology; therefore Paul added “in power”. Gathercole rightly points out that this logic assumes the conclusion! Ehrman’s statements on Romans 1:3-4 are “conjecture upon conjecture” (p104).
Third, Gathercole presents another approach to the “exaltation texts”: they don’t teach a change in Jesus’s person, but rather His role in salvation-history. Upon accomplishing His ministry and mission on earth in His first coming, He is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, having been appointed Lord over all and given all authority. He has not suddenly become God’s divine son, rather, His “Messianic sonship” has taken a different stage upon His resurrection and ascension.
Earliest Christology: My Thoughts
Just a few thoughts on Ehrman’s chapter on early Christology. Having been an area that I have studied in some depth for my Christ and the Cross class, I felt in familiar territory here. This made the flaws in Ehrman’s exegesis and logic more transparent. However, Gathercole does such a fantastic job in responding to Ehrman that there’s little I want to add.
Gathercole hinted in this direction, but I do hope that the authors address Ehrman’s misuse of “Son of God”. He doesn’t sufficiently clarify that it is not a purely divine title. D.A. Carson shows in Jesus the Son of God that Son of God was primarily a messianic title (Matt 26:63; John 1:49) – though it became filled with divine meaning (John 1:1, 14; 5:23) and ultimately in the early church the latter meaning overshadowed the former. It is ironic that Ehrman appears to do something he accuses Christians of doing elsewhere, by using the title anachronistically! I think Ehrman’s understanding that Son of God can only mean divine is at the foundation of the problems in his “exaltation Christology”. If Son of God can refer to Jesus’s messianic ministry and role then this helps relieve some of the problems Ehrman presents. Jesus’s messianic role developed in His ministry, such as at His baptism (when He is anointed with the Spirit) and at His resurrection (when He becomes Lord over all). This resolves much of what Ehrman sees as disharmony and different Christologies in the NT.
I sometimes ask my students “when was Jesus king?”. Was it in His preexistence with the Father? Was it His birth? Was it His anointing with the Spirit in baptism? The triumphal entry? The cross (John 19:19)? Upon His resurrection? His ascension? His second coming? And of course the answer is “yes”! However, there is a development in each of these points in history.
Look out for the next part of my review soon!