I’m still not sure exactly how I’ll review How Jesus Became God. I have a few ideas: either a normal review, or a chapter-by-chapter thoughts in progress walk-through, or a back-and-forth review with its partner book, How God Became Jesus.
Actually, if any readers would like to suggest an approach, please comment below. I’m all ears!
Anyway, I thought it would be a good start to summarize Ehrman’s approach outline the arguments in this book.
How Jesus Became God: Outline
- Divine Humans in Ancient Greece and Rome. Today we think that calling Jesus ‘divine’ or ‘son of God’ is unique, but “divine humans” were a common idea in the ancient Greco-Roman world.
- Divine Humans in Ancient Judaism. But Christianity grew out of Judaism, which had different beliefs to the surrounding pagan culture. Surely no Jew would blur the lines between God and His creation? However, the ancient Jews actually believed in lesser deities and men who became divine, much like the ancient pagans.
- Did Jesus Think He Was God? So what about Jesus’ self-understanding? Did He think of Himself as divine in some way? (Ehrman argues ‘no’).
- The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Cannot Know. When did Jesus first begin to be considered divine? Ehrman argues that it was after the “resurrection”, examining the data, beginning with the lack of data.
- The Resurrection of Jesus: What We Can Know. Carrying on from the previous chapter, Ehrman moves to the more certain information regarding the “resurrection” of Jesus.
- The Beginning of Christology: Christ as Ealxted to Heaven. The earliest views of Jesus’ divinity held that the man Jesus was deified to sit at God’s right hand at the resurrection. Ehrman finds this view in the earlier NT Scriptures.
- Jesus as God on Earth: Early Incarnation Christologies. Ehrman traces the later NT texts to show that a Christological development took place, holding that Jesus was instead a divine being who became man.
- After the New Testament: Christological Dead Ends of the Second and Third Centuries. As the early church developed, so did their Christology. Here Ehrman follows three Christological views that regarded as “heretical” by the larger church during the second and third centuries.
- Ortho-Paradoxes on the Road to Nicea. The “Arian controversy” leading to the formation of the Nicene Creed: the last major stage of orthodox Christology.
- Epilogue. The consequences of this final stage of Christology in history.
I’m very much enjoying this book so far. Surprisingly so. I have found Bart Ehrman to be clear and enjoyable to read, and I have already learned some things. He shows an ability to simplify quite complicated academic ideas. I want to read How Jesus Became God with an open mind and heart, unafraid in the quest for truth. I actually spent some time in prayer before opening the book; that the Lord would give me a clarity of mind and receptiveness to what is true here. That said, I expect to disagree (and have already) with much of what Ehrman argues for.
Erhman wants to trace how the early Christians came to believe that Jesus was God. Of course, wrapped up in this thesis is the assumption that Jesus wasn’t in fact divine in any sense; Ehrman claims he is approaching this from a historical rather than theological angle. This implies that his conclusions shouldn’t affect the Christian faith, which seems generous until one realizes he is presupposing that the only sense in which one could think of Jesus as divine is in “faith”, not history. It can’t be a historical fact, but it could still be a belief. This is not quite so generous after all! It’s a shame that Ehrman starts his historical study by assuming at the outset that it’s impossible that Christian beliefs about Jesus are naturally connected to His earliest followers, even Jesus Himself.
Lastly, I just have to bemoan the endnotes (rather than footnotes). I know it sometimes makes for an easier read, but not when one has to keep their finger in the back of the book the whole time !
While it’s a bumpy ride, I look forward to reading the rest of this book and sharing my thoughts with you all! I hope this will be an interactive process, so comments are invited.
[Many thanks to HarperOne in the USA and Kuperard in the UK for providing a review copy of How Jesus Became God in exchange for an unbiased review.]