Slightly edited 3 hours after original posting.
Did the earliest Christians regard Jesus as God?
COVERED IN THIS POST:
- Did the earliest Christians see Jesus as God?
- God vs. an emanation of God
- Concepts of the Son and Logos; Paul and Philo
- Epistolary descriptions of the Son
- The Synoptic Jesus: Man or God?
- Why Mark’s divinity for Jesus is subdued
- The figure in the Philippians hymn: human or divine?
- “Nature” vs. “image” in the Philippians hymn
- Yet another “likeness” motif
- What is the “name above every name”? “Jesus” vs. “Lord”
- Another smoking gun
* * * * *
Jesus as God
(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 231-240)
Was Jesus God?
|But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness.|
Bart Ehrman now embarks on what is probably the thorniest problem in New Testament research. How was Jesus regarded, not only by his followers, but by the earliest Christians who spread the faith? Ehrman declares:
the earliest Christians did not consider Jesus God. . . . scholars are unified in thinking that the view that Jesus was God was a later development within Christian circles. (DJE? p. 231)
But what precisely is meant by the phrase ‘Jesus was God’? Much of the problem lies in Ehrman’s semantic woolliness. Later Church Councils declared Jesus fully a co-equal with God the Father, of the same substance, two ‘persons’ within the Trinity. I am aware of no scholarship, let alone any mythicist, who suggests that this was the view of any segment of earliest Christianity.
But to say that Jesus was an “emanation” of God is something else. The difference between Paul’s Son of God and Philo’s Logos as an emanation of God is largely a matter of personhood. Philo does not personalize his Logos; he calls it God’s “first-born,” but it is not a distinct ‘person’; rather, it is a kind of radiant force which has certain effects on the world. Paul’s Son has been carried one step further (though a large one), in that he is a full hypostasis, a distinct divine personage with an awareness of self and roles of his own—and capable of being worshiped on his own.
But an “emanation” is not God per se. That is why Philo can describe him as “begotten” of God. He can be styled a part of the Godhead, but he is a subordinate part. (I have no desire to sound like a theologian, but to try to explain as I see it the concepts that lie in the minds of Christian writers, past and present. They are attempting to describe what they see as a spiritual reality; I regard it as bearing no relation to any reality at all.) Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:28 speaks of the Son’s fate once God’s enemies are vanquished, a passage which exercises theologians because it looks incompatible with the Trinity. For here Paul says that the Son “will be subjected” to God, in the apparent sense of being ‘subsumed’ back into God, who will then become One again—“so that God will be all in all.” There will only be one ‘person.’
The “intermediary Son” concept
|Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself.|
There can be little question that the idea of the Son, Paul’s “Christ” and spiritual Messiah, arose from the philosophical thinking of the era, which created for the highest Deity intermediary spiritual forces and subordinate divine entities to fill certain roles and to be revelatory channels between God and humanity. In Judaism, this was the role of personified Wisdom, though her divinity was relatively innocuous and her ‘person’ perhaps as much poetic as real. (She may have been a later scribal compromise when an earlier goddess consort of Yahweh was abandoned). In Greek thinking, the intermediary force was the Logos, though in varied versions (the Platonic Logos and Stoic Logos were quite different), and with an independence and personification less developed than Paul’s.
Thus the “Son” which we find described throughout the epistles is viewed in the sense of an emanation of God, not God himself. He has a personification of his own, and he fills certain roles.
Consider three passages:
- 1 Corinthians 8:6 – For us there is one God, the Father, from whom all being comes, toward whom we move; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came to be, and we through him.
- Colossian 1:15-20 – [God] rescued us from the domain of darkness and brought us away into the kingdom of his dear Son, in whom our release is secured and our sins forgiven. He is the image [eikōn]of the invisible God; his is the primacy over all created things. In him everything in heaven and on earth was created . . . the whole universe has been created through him and for him. And he exists before everything, and all things are held together in him. . . .
- Hebrews 1:2-3 – . . . the Son whom he has made heir to the whole universe, and through whom he created all orders of existence: the Son who is the effulgence of God’s splendor and the stamp of God’s very being, and sustains the universe by his word of power.
All three passages present the Son as the agent of creation (as was personified Wisdom in Jewish tradition). Two mention his sustaining power by which the universe subsists. They also see this emanation as making the ultimate God ‘visible’: he is the “image” of the Father who is known and communicates with the world through this filial intermediary. In Colossians, his redemptive role is mentioned: through him sins are forgiven and humanity has been released from darkness. (About the only thing never mentioned is the fact of this cosmic Son’s incarnation to earth and his identity in that life, but perhaps this was considered unimportant.)
Though Ehrman will argue against it, there can hardly be any question that these epistle writers viewed the Son as a heavenly figure, a part of God who existed on the spiritual plane. That this was an interpretation of the man Jesus of Nazareth is a post-Gospel rationalization, not to be found in the epistles themselves. That some modern scholarship can go further, as we shall see, and regard the epistolary picture as not indicating a belief in its Jesus as divine—whether equal or subordinate to God—is a travesty.
No Jesus as God in the Gospels
|Ehrman, as demonstrated . . . has jockeyed and massaged the evidence—including fabricating some of it—to produce a dubious witness . . . prior to the epistles. . . . This alleged tradition, he says, reflected the Synoptic presentation of Jesus as anything but cosmic|
Second, who exactly constitutes “the earliest Christians” who Ehrman says did not see Jesus as God? Here is where his whole argument becomes hopelessly tangled. For rather than consider the situation in the epistles, Ehrman zeros in on the Gospels:
It is striking that none of our first three Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—declares that Jesus is God or indicates that Jesus ever called himself God. Jesus’s teaching in the earliest Gospel traditions is not about his personal divinity but about the coming kingdom of God and the need to prepare for it. This should give readers pause. If the earliest followers of Jesus thought Jesus was God, why don’t the earliest Gospels say so? It seems like it would have been a rather important aspect of Christ’s identity to point out. (DJE? p. 231)
Perhaps as the epistles ought to have pointed out the cosmic Son’s human incarnation as an important aspect of his identity? Be that as it may, Ehrman, as demonstrated earlier in this series, has jockeyed and massaged the evidence—including fabricating some of it—to produce a dubious witness (indeed, many “independent” ones) prior to the epistles, one which supposedly represented an oral tradition phase which later fed into the Gospels. This alleged tradition, he says, reflected the Synoptic presentation of Jesus as anything but cosmic—as apparently nothing other than human.
“Son of God” vs. “son of God”
As the first plank in his case, Ehrman points out that many individuals in the Old Testament, such as Solomon, were referred to as “son(s) of God,” which did not make them God. Rather,
(Solomon) was instead a human who stood in a close relationship with God, like a child to a parent, and was used by God to mediate his will on earth. . . . When the future messiah was thought of as the son of God, it was not because he would be God incarnate but because he would be a human particularly close to God through whom God worked his purposes.
The Synoptic Gospels do indeed downplay the divinity of their Jesus, although there are a few pretty strong suggestions that there is more to being Mark’s “S/son of God” than Ehrman has allowed. Mark in 13:32 says:
But about that day or that hour [the arrival of the End] no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, not even the Son; only the Father.
Here, “the Son” implies a singular spiritual aspect of God (thus needing capitalization, which all translations that I know of give it), inhabiting heaven like the angels. It is not even sure that Jesus is intended to be referring to himself here, just as it hardly seems that he himself is supposed to be the messiah whom he prophesies impostors in the future will be claiming to be. Mark seems to prefer that Jesus think of and refer to himself as the Son of Man, but even this tradition has grown out of a previous expression in the Q tradition wherein such a figure is an apocalyptic one, expected from heaven and thus possessing at least some form of divinity.
Mark’s divinity of Jesus
But then Mark throws off the covers in 14:61-2 before the High Priest’s questioning: “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” The latter, of course, means God, and Jesus answers: “I am.” Not only is this reference to “the Son” hardly to be put into Ehrman’s category of a human particularly close to God, the High Priest declares this claim to be blasphemy, for which Jesus needs to be condemned to death. It was hardly blasphemy to announce oneself as the messiah, nor even the apocalyptic Son of Man; and certainly not to call oneself a “son of God” in Ehrman’s sense. It could only be blasphemy if Jesus was declaring himself to be a divine part of God.
We might also wonder at God’s extreme reaction to the crucifixion, both in prodigies of nature and in his abandonment of his Chosen People by splitting the veil of the Temple, if this was only a man he felt a close relationship with. And the centurion’s reaction would have been an ironic understatement if all Mark wanted him to say was: “Truly, this man was one whom the Jewish God felt particularly close to!”
Besides, what was to be the point of Mark’s whole story by including the Passion? Jesus as God’s prophet is one thing: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” Mark’s ministry—though short on actual teachings, let alone memorable ones—might fit a “son of God” of the Ehrman variety. But a trial, execution and rising from his tomb? Something foretold in scripture (as Jesus constantly tells his disciples), whose purpose was a “redemption for many”? It is difficult to think that Mark would have created such a tale simply in terms of an individual whom he thought of as merely one among many who had been “sons of God.”
Distinguishing between Gospels and epistles
What Ehrman and historicism fail to take into account is the division between the Gospels and the epistles, two quite separate phenomena on the first century scene. I pointed out earlier that the Synoptics grew out of the kingdom preaching movement of which Mark was a part, represented in Q. (The Johannine community later attached itself to their Jesus character and story). Thus Mark and his redactors were creating an allegorical tale based on quite human traditions: the teachings and activities of the Q prophets themselves and an imagined founder figure who had been developed only later as the sect evolved; that founder was given no death and resurrection, let alone a dimension as part of God.
The Passion in Mark’s Gospel was an insertion into that tradition, quite possibly based on a syncretization with some expression of the heavenly Christ cult (though probably not directly from Paul). That amalgamation with Galilee kept the “S/son of God” aspect given to Mark’s Jesus character on a noticeably lower plane than is found in the epistles. Still, Mark could not avoid according his Jesus some measure of divinity, a personal connection to God whose nature is hard to pin down from the text. Certainly, he was unable to avoid creating anomalies which would bedevil future scholarship.
The situation in Acts
By claiming an oral tradition origin for certain views of Jesus in the Gospels (which he has failed to provide any concrete evidence for), Ehrman has transferred the later picture created by Mark to a pre-Pauline period and presented it as the earliest view of Jesus. He backs that up by pointing to the speeches in Acts which allegedly portray Jesus of Nazareth according to a pre-Gospel tradition that Jesus was a human being who was only adopted as “son of God” in the sense of ‘a man special to him’—and then only at his resurrection. That Acts maintains the latter point is highly dubious, and it is hardly compatible with Ehrman’s own conviction that Acts was written by the same author who wrote Luke.
Besides, such an adoption only upon resurrection would imply that in his preceding life God did not treat the man Jesus as anyone special. That is hardly a view that would have been held by any early Christian, let alone Jesus’ former followers. Ehrman has failed to demonstrate that Acts could not have been founded entirely in the Gospels themselves (I’ve made that point in an earlier instalment). Given an increasingly popular dating for Acts in the second century, nothing in it can be securely allotted to an initial period of the faith, especially prior to the epistles.
The christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11
|One wonders how it can be “clear” that it does not portray Jesus as a dying and rising god, while at the same time it “appears” to be just that on “superficial reading.”|
But now Ehrman’s case becomes thoroughly entangled. For he embarks on a consideration of the christological hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. But this is from the epistolary record, and yet he is offering it as an illustration of how he claims early Christians viewed Jesus not too long after his death. He will use this hymn to show that such a view was simply of Jesus as a “son of God” in the ‘special man’ category. That certainly bucks centuries of scholarly interpretation, though he points out that the hymn in just about every one of its lines is “much debated”—as is its very identity as a poetic liturgical piece, one of several in the epistles which are regarded as pre-Pauline creations. Still,
But one thing is clear: it does not mean what mythicists typically claim it means. It does not portray Jesus in the guise of a pagan dying and rising god, even if that is what, on a superficial reading, it may appear to be about.
One wonders how it can be “clear” that it does not portray Jesus as a dying and rising god, while at the same time it “appears” to be just that on “superficial reading.” This alerts us that the “superficial” text is going to need some spin doctoring to overcome that plain reading and render its true meaning “clear.” Nor do mythicists need to overplay the “pagan dying and rising god” claim; Judaism was capable of coming up with its own version which entailed a distinctive character of its own.
Ehrman lays out the entire passage as follows (the first line in brackets is not regarded as part of the hymn):
(Have this mind in yourselves which is also in Christ Jesus,)
 who although he was in the form [μορφη] of God [alt., being in very nature God (as in NIV)],
did not regard being equal with God something to be seized.
 But he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave,
and coming [lit., becoming] in the likeness of humans.
 And being found in the appearance as a human
he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, [even the death of the cross].
 Therefore also God highly exalted him [literally: hyper-exalted him],
and gave to him the name that is above every name.
 That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow
of things in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.
 And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
[The words in square brackets in lines 2 and 5 are my own, and I have placed brackets around “even the death of the cross” in verse 8 since most scholars, including Ehrman, regard this as a Pauline addition. In Philippians the hymn is presented in prose, but it seems to have had a chiastic structure: the second half being a mirror image of the first half in terms of lines and meter.]
Form = nature? Or form = image?
|And here Ehrman attempts some sleight-of-hand.|
Ehrman first addresses the opening line of the hymn (verse 6), crucial to his contention about the meaning of “son of God.” What does “in the form [μορφη] of God” mean? Does it mean being in the image of God in the way that Adam was made, and all humans are said to be? Or does it mean having the nature of God, such as in being an emanation of God, a part of him and sharing in his divine quality? Traditional scholarship has always taken it to mean the latter, that it is a statement of the pre-existence of Jesus, existing with God in heaven from before creation. Ehrman acknowledges that this “may be the right way to read the passage,” but he offers qualifications, and will shortly opt for a different understanding. He says,
Christ was in the “form of God,” (but) that does not mean that he was God. (DJE? p. 235)
I am going to assume that by “he was God” Ehrman would allow for the meaning of “he was a part of God,” in the sense of an emanation, though he never makes this clear, or that it is not to be equated with Council decisions in later centuries.
Divinity was his “form,” just as later in the passage he took on the “form” of a “slave.” That does not mean that he was permanently and always a slave; it was simply the outward form he assumed. (DJE? p. 235)
This is certainly woolly. “Divinity was his ‘form’” is particularly obscure. How does one, especially a man, “assume” the outward form of divinity? The line clearly implies that this “form” was his from the first, but perhaps Ehrman is taking this as meaning that the human Jesus had the ‘form/image’ of God in the same way as any other human being, and so to this extent his form was “divine.”
But then we run into trouble. “He assumed the ‘form/image’ of a slave/servant,” supposedly referring to when he became—what? Human? But he was supposedly already human. And “form/image” does not mean “role,” so it is not referring to when he submitted to death, as a slave/servant to God’s will. Besides, a later line repeats a similar idea, saying “becoming in the likeness of men.” Was he not in that ‘likeness’ from the beginning, according to Ehrman?
Ehrman reveals his preference that the solution to the opening of the hymn is that Jesus is seen as being in the “image” of God, as Adam was in the creation account in Genesis. The terms “image” and “form” are sometimes used synonymously in the Old Testament, and so Christ is styled as having been another Adam at the beginning, no more. And here Ehrman attempts some sleight-of-hand. Borrowing another motif from Genesis, he suggests that Christ, in not seeking equality with God in the hymn, is being contrasted with Adam who did want to be “equal with God” and so “grabbed for the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
But Adam was not seeking equality with God in any sense that he would become God or even a part of God. The serpent’s temptation hardly went so far. Adam and Eve would simply “become like gods, knowing both good and evil.” That is not the same as achieving “equality with God” per se, but simply enjoying one of his abilities. Nor would the hymnist be making any point about his figure having a motive like Adam’s or being in parallel with him, seeking to acquire the knowledge of good and evil. That would be ludicrous.
If all Ehrman means is that Jesus possessed the ‘divine form’ of God in the same sense as Adam, that from his birth he had borne this image, why would the hymnist bother making such a point? But as the hymn is constructed, this “form from the first” is meant to present a contrast with the “form” he adopted as a slave. Such as we might say, John was born of the aristocracy but he led his life among the lower class, helping to lift them from their poverty. This and the hymn itself implies a stark, wide contrast, one that would be lost if all the first line meant was that Jesus from birth as a human being was in the “image” of God, no different from Adam or any other human being.
|Sharing in the nature of God is being contrasted with sharing in the nature of the slave/servant who undergoes death. In neither case is he said to be God or to be a man.|
Clearly, the form that was in ‘equality with God’ is set against the inferior form he did take on, namely that of a slave or servant. He took on a nature similar to humans, one by which he could suffer and die; he shared one of their key essences.
There is no sense here of an “image” of anything, and thus by being set against the “form” he was initially accorded in the first verse, that first “form” cannot be understood in the sense of “image.” (In Colossians 1:15-20, as noted above, the word used for “image” is not μορφη, but εικων. And the concept of the Son/Logos as “image” of God is not the same as that of man being made in the image of God.)
Moreover, how could a man be said to take on the image or likeness of men? Rather, sharing in the nature of God is being contrasted with sharing in the nature of the slave/servant who undergoes death. In neither case is he said to be God or to be a man.
Keeping equality with God? Or gaining equality with God?
Moreover, when it says that he “did not regard equality with God something to be seized,” it is hotly debated whether that means that he did not want to “retain” what he already had, or to “grab” something that he did not have. (DJE? pp. 235-236)
Ehrman opts for the latter understanding. But how was a human being to “grab” at equality with God? Why would an early Christian hymnist praise the man Jesus for not grabbing at such equality? Why would such an idea even have been conceivable, let alone formulated so soon after the man’s death? Even being exalted upon resurrection would hardly extend to having this man think he could grab equal status with God.
But if Christ Jesus is a heavenly emanation of God, he is subordinate to him, and thus not his equal—just as the Logos was not to be equated with God or considered an equal. It would be natural for a hymnist to praise this ‘first-begotten’ of God for not striving to become God’s equal, especially in light of him being willing to go in the opposite direction: he reduced his status by assuming the form/nature of a slave/servant obedient to God’s wishes—obedient even to death.
|But this inequality does not necessarily spell being human, for a spiritual Son and emanation is by definition less than an equal, something Ehrman has not taken into account.|
Ehrman is assuredly right in saying that if Jesus were already God there was no higher to go, so he must not have already been equal to God. But this inequality does not necessarily spell being human, for a spiritual Son and emanation is by definition less than an equal, something Ehrman has not taken into account. The occasional translation does assume a heavenly equality and understands the “retain” idea, such as the Translator’s New Testament: “he did not consider that he must cling to equality with God.” But this seems more a faith-based assumption dependent on post-Council orthodoxy than allowing that such a meaning could be contained in the words themselves. (The NEB offers as an alternative: “yet he did not prize his equality with God.” If the hymnist did have such a meaning in mind, it may be that for the purposes of his literary creation he did not bother with the niceties of whether an emanation was exactly equal or not.)
Driving the point home that the Son assumed a “likeness”
Three times does the hymnist make much the same statement:
- he took on the form of a slave/servant,
- becoming in the likeness of men,
- found in fashion as a man.
If this passage is indeed a hymn with metrical lines, this repetition of the same idea was designed to fill in needed lines. But then why not use the available space for some specific reference to a life on earth, to his identity in an incarnation, to some of his activities: teaching, miracle-working, prophesying? Why overwork the “likeness” motif if he became an actual man? Of course, the explanation here is that this descending figure did not become a man or incarnated to earth; he took on a spiritual equivalent—a likeness—to being human in a part of the corruptible heavens in order to undergo his death and rising at the hands of “the rulers of this age.”
|With that understanding, the case for mythicism has been clinched, for it tells us that no “Jesus” lived on earth with that name before the resurrection.|
The second half of the hymn has sparked even greater debate. As a result of his obedience to God in submitting to death, this figure—who so far in the hymn has not been named—is exalted. But when Ehrman carries over his “man like Adam” interpretation into the exaltation phase of the hymn, he is led into further problematic exegesis. (Ehrman also suggests that this second half presents an “adoptionist” scenario, that here the man Jesus is being adopted as God’s son. But there is nothing in the text to suggest that; there is no allusion to Psalm 2:7. The Son is merely given new power.)
We can repeat verses 9-11 here for easy reference:
and gave to him the name that is above every name.
 That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow
of things in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.
 And every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
[Ehrman has pointed out the “hyper-exalted,” but that works against him. It implies an exaltation greater than the one he enjoyed before. But what ‘exaltation’ would the human man have possessed prior to this? The word clearly refers to the Son being raised even higher, with greater power, than he previously stood when he simply ‘shared in God’s nature’ (verse 6).]
The interpretation of verses 9-11 has always been critical. What is the “name above every name”? The plain reading is that it is “Jesus.” The word “name” in both verses is the same: “onoma.” This descending-ascending figure, who has pointedly not been identified by any name in the hymn before, is now given a name, and at that name, “Jesus,” all in heaven, earth and Sheol bow their knee to him. With that understanding, the case for mythicism has been clinched, for it tells us that no “Jesus” lived on earth with that name before the resurrection.
But scholarship sees one way out: the “name” given to the figure in verse 9 is not “Jesus,” it is something else. And with that other name, the exalted entity who was allegedly already named Jesus receives his new homage. And what is that other “name”? There is only one candidate available. It is “Lord.” But how much sense does this make?
When is a title a name?
First of all, “Lord” is a title, not a name. It is sometimes claimed that the word “onoma” can encompass a title. But this is in the sense of a category designation, such as Ignatius saying that he is persecuted for his “name” in that he is a “Christian.” (See Bauer, def. II.) Even the common phrase “in the name of the Lord” is not making “Lord” itself a name, but refers to the act of calling upon God, referred to by one of his designations, whether Lord or Most High or Father, and so on. It is not identifying those terms as personal “names” but as titles. My father’s name was not “father.” That was a category designation and a form of address. If the hymnist wanted to identify the term given to Jesus as “Lord,” a title designation of God, he should have identified it as a title and not a name.
And what happens if the “name” given in verse 9 is not “Jesus” but some other term? It would be like saying, “He was given the name George, so that at the name of Robert every knee should bow.” There is a rather obvious non-sequitur in these verses that the hymnist should not have felt comfortable with. Is “Jesus” a name that could be called “a name above every name”? It could if it encompassed the meaning of Savior, which it does. This would make it a name greater than any other name of a divine or human entity other than God.
Another smoking gun?
But what if the “name” were “Lord”? Is that “a name above every name”? Since it is a title of God himself it certainly would be, presuming we could take “name” as encompassing a title. But the hymnist would then be creating a confusing picture, one in fact which is not just a non-sequitur but contradictory. In the usual scholarly scenario, Jesus receives obeisance from the entire universe on the basis of being given the “name above every name” in verse 9. In other words, the denizens of the universe are reacting to that name, whatever it is.
But if this “name” is “Lord” then verse 10 doesn’t fit, for there it is said that “at the name of Jesus” every knee shall bow. But it would not be the name “Jesus” which prompts the bending of the knee if it is allegedly the title “Lord.” There is a contradiction here which cannot be resolved. (The statement that “Jesus Christ is Lord” in the final verse need not reflect back on the previous verses, for it could as easily mean that the Son now given the name Jesus has become Lord, beside the Lord God himself.) We must return to seeing verse 9’s “name” as “Jesus,” which brings it into harmony with the statement of verse 10. And brings mythicism onto the gold medal podium.
|This picture of the heavenly Son is in keeping with the cosmic portrayal of him in the other hymns . . . which Ehrman does not address. . . . . An entity who was divine to begin with, sharing in God’s nature, descends and undergoes death, then rises back to heaven in an exalted state.|
In sum, would Ehrman really have us believe that such a scenario, such an exaltation, would be created for his simple “son of God,” even if he had consented to crucifixion? What other “son of God” in Jewish history, even a martyr, was ever given God’s own exalted title? What other “son of God” had every knee in the cosmos bent to him? And how would the crucifixion of a man give God the means to forgive humanity its sins? (Though that is not the stated effect in this hymn.) Even the author of Hebrews realized that this required divine blood. And the Gospel Jesus was eventually raised to divinity precisely because it was perceived that only the sacrifice of a god could bestow redemption.
This picture of the heavenly Son is in keeping with the cosmic portrayal of him in the other hymns we looked at earlier, which Ehrman does not address. Could Philippians 2:6-11 be said to offer a dying and rising god? It certainly looks like it. An entity who was divine to begin with, sharing in God’s nature, descends and undergoes death, then rises back to heaven in an exalted state. Ehrman’s admission was right: on “superficial reading” it certainly looks to be a duck.
|Even Ehrman admits that the hymn implies that this man, this “son of God,” was after his resurrection exalted to a position worthy of equal worship with God.”
And on what basis? That they liked his teachings? That they ‘came to believe’ based on a rumor that he had risen . . . ?
The whole idea is preposterous.
Ehrman goes so far as to admit:
This final part of the passage is actually a quotation from Isaiah 45:23, which says that it is to God alone that every knee shall bow and tongue confess. However you interpret the rest of the passage, this conclusion is stunning. Christ will receive the adoration that is by rights God’s alone. That is how highly God exalted him in reward for his act of obedience. (DJE? p. 237)
Well, it’s more than stunning. It is beyond credence. Isaiah 45:23 shows the exalted exclusivity Jews allotted to their God. Were the earliest Jewish Christians willing to contravene that paramount monotheism to the extent of elevating a crucified criminal, calling him “the Lord Jesus Christ” with God’s name above every name, to a position beside God himself? Even Ehrman admits that the hymn implies that this man, this “son of God,” was after his resurrection exalted to a position worthy of equal worship with God.” And on what basis? That they liked his teachings (for which there is no evidence in the epistles)? That they ‘came to believe’ based on a rumor, a story, an idea, that he had risen after death—and not even in flesh to earth (as Ehrman will have it)? The whole idea is preposterous.
At this point, Ehrman stands on his wager. The Philippians hymn has Jesus becoming someone ‘worthy to be worshiped,’ and he hedges his description of this new recipient of adoration as someone who was exalted “to a position of divine authority and grandeur,” seemingly to avoid styling him a god. But despite such hymns being thought of as written prior to Paul, whose conversion Ehrman puts at two or three years after the crucifixion, and despite them having a depth and sophistication which could hardly have developed overnight, their sentiments, Ehrman declares, do not constitute the earliest interpretation of Jesus. No, that preceded even the pre-Pauline hymns. Which I guess slots it into the first week or two after Jesus’ death.
. . . to be continued