I’m continuing to work through Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God and Bird’s (et al.) How God Became Jesus. You can find each piece in the series here. Due to the size of this summary, I will offer my response and Simon Gathercole’s in a future post.
How Jesus Became God (Ehrman)
In chapter 6, Ehrman wants to explore how the first Christians understood Christ; early Christology. A difficulty immediately arises: the earliest documents we possess are from at least twenty years after Christ and of course, while Acts recounts the early days of the church, it was written 80-85AD (according to Ehrman) so its material was inherited from Christians who had been “changing and embellishing” (p215) the stories over the years.
So how can we find the earliest Christology? The answer is in preliterary traditions, such as hymns and creeds, which are found embedded in the NT writings themselves. When one examines these traditions, it soon becomes clear that they are surprisingly consistent in their presentations of Jesus: Jesus was “the human who was exalted at the end of his earthly life to become the Son of God and was made, then and there, into a divine being” (p218). Ehrman prefers to call this an “exaltation Christology” rather than the common destination of “adoptionist” or “low” Christology, since even in this view Jesus is still divine (p230-235).
Ehrman settles on Romans 1:3-4 as a primary example and lays it out as follows (p220-1):
A1 Who was descended
A2 from the seed of David
A3 according to the flesh,
B1 who was appointed
B2 Son of God in power
B3 according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.
Even though Paul quotes this preliterary tradition, Ehman believes it presents a different Christology to Paul’s own. His primary reason is that Paul felt the need to add “in power” to the creed, which shows that“[f]or the original framer of this creed…the resurrection was Jesus’s exaltation into divinity” (p224, emphasis added). So it appears that the earliest Christians saw Him as divine only upon His resurrection and ascension.
Other preliterary traditions in Luke-Acts are discovered to have much in common with Rom 1:3-4, and, much like that passage, do not reflect the views of the author but an earlier Christology. Acts 13:32-33 for Ehrman is an “astounding” (p226) statement that Jesus was divine upon His resurrection. Similar conclusions are made from Acts 2:36 and 5:31.
So, according to Ehrman, the earliest Christians believed in an “exaltation Christology”, but it’s not quite so simple. It appears that over time this exaltation was pushed backwards, so that for Mark Jesus was exalted not at His resurrection but baptism (Mark 1:9-11), and for the later Gospels Luke and Matthew He was instead exalted at conception (Luke 1:35, Matt 1:20-23). However, what these exaltation views have in common is that none presented Him as preexistent (p243); that understanding (incarnation Christology) will be discussed in the next chapter.
But before that, I’ll give a few of my own thoughts and Simon Gathercole’s response from How God Became Jesus.