Recently Bart Ehrman debated Michael Bird the question of how Jesus became God. Just as he had written in his book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Erhman argued that
- the earliest devotees of Jesus viewed him as a normal man, a human messiah, who had been exalted to become God’s son at the resurrection.
- Later, Christians came to think that he was the Son of God prior to the resurrection and reasoned that he had been adopted as God’s son at his baptism, as we read in the Gospel of Mark.
- Still later others moved his divine sonship back to the time of his birth in Bethlehem. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke indicate that Jesus only came into existence as God’s son when born to Mary.
- Later still Jesus was thought to have been always divine, even before appearing as a man, as we read in the prologue to the Gospel of John.
My first response to this argument was that it ran counter to the pre-gospel evidence, the writings of Paul. But I double checked and saw that Ehrman does find stage #1 above in the writings of Paul. Paul does open his epistle to the Romans with a clear statement of #1 — Romans 1:3-4
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son,
A1 who was descended
A2 from the seed of David
A3 according to the flesh
B1 and was appointed
B2 the Son of God in power
B3 according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead
Ehrman is well aware that the rest of Paul’s writings inform us that Paul had a much higher view of Jesus than we read in these opening verses of Romans. So I think his larger argument still founders on the reef of Paul. But my interest here is Ehrman’s use of Romans 1:3-4 as the starting point from which he builds his case.
Ehrman informs his readers that many scholars have long considered these verses, 1:3-4, to be pre-Pauline creed that Paul is quoting. Indeed, Ehrman writes (p. 223) that
it could represent early tradition . . . from the early years in Palestine after Jesus’s first followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead.
Part of the reason Ehrman thinks the passage is so early is because of the words translated “spirit of holiness”: such a turn of phrase is an Aramaicism and since Jesus and his first followers spoke Aramaic it follows that they probably formulated the creed. (I will leave the identification of the flaws in this argument up to readers.)
Another reason to judge the passage early appears to be the focus on Jesus as the Davidic Messiah. Ehrman calls upon the much later gospels to support him here. He uses their late testimony (in the belief that true historical data can be gleaned from them via criteria of authenticity) to affirm that the disciples of Jesus believed he was the Davidic messiah in his own lifetime and that they continued to believe this after his death (even though he failed to overthrow Rome as the Davidic messiah was supposed to do) because of the power he attained with his resurrection.
Why think the words are not Paul’s own but a quotation of a well-known creed?
Why does Ehrman (presumably following widespread and long-held scholarly opinion) believe these verses are pre-Pauline words being quoted by Paul? read more