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(How Jesus Became God) HarperOne and (How God Became Jesus) Zondervan

Raining on Bart Ehrman’s Easter parade

Religion | A group of biblical scholars respond to the anti-Christian author’s latest attack on the divinity of Jesus

Easter is no longer just a time for Christians to celebrate the Resurrection and non-Christians to celebrate Easter bunnies. It’s also a time for anti-Christians to come out with highly publicized books attacking biblical accounts. Annually they debunk all the way to the bank. Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee is one of this year’s efforts.

Happily, New Testament scholar Michael Bird and some of his colleagues have risen to the challenge by rapidly producing a response, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman

First we have Bird’s overall critique of Ehrman’s work, followed by, courtesy of Zondervan, excerpts from two chapters of this counter-Ehrman book, the first written by Bird and the second penned by another New Testament scholar, Simon Gathercole.

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And be sure to listen to Warren Cole Smith’s interview with Bart Ehrman, the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, on this weekend’s edition of Listening In, a production of WORLD Radio. —Marvin Olasky

Bart Ehrman, Jesus, and the message of Easter

By Michael F. Bird

Bart Ehrman is a former professed Christian who now writes one book after another trying to expose the alleged inaccuracies of the Christian Bible, or else tries to prove that what really happened was very different from traditionalist claims. His latest book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, attempts to map how a Galilean peasant executed by the Romans eventually came to be worshipped as God by billions.

In his latest book, Ehrman argues that Jesus did not think He was God. He didn’t rise from the dead, but His disciples thought He did, and on that basis they thought He was a human being who was made divine. (Ehrman distorts what the apostles believe: He claims Paul thought Jesus was an angel who became human, and John regarded Him as some pre-existent being incarnated as a man.) Eventually, Ehrman writes, the incrementally increasing veneration of Jesus by the early church led them to worship Him as God and they claimed that Jesus was equal in power and being to God the Father. So whereas Jesus proclaimed God, much later Jesus was proclaimed as God.

Thankfully, Ehrman is quite right on a good many things. For a start, he acknowledges that Jesus existed as an historical figure, which is a welcome change from some of the sensationalist claims the media often latches onto when someone with a conspiracy theory that Jesus was a mythical character finds a publisher willing to print his ideas. Ehrman also does a good job of charting some of the stories about gods who became human and humans who became gods in the ancient world. Likewise, he is able to identify many of the crucial factors and texts that require explaining, so that we may plot exactly how, when, and why Jesus came to be revered as a God. That said, I do not always find Ehrman’s argument compelling or persuasive. I think things happened very differently than how he sees them transpiring. I don’t think that Jesus became God, rather, I think God became Jesus!

In November last year, I was in Baltimore, Md., attending a biblical studies conference. Walking around the bookstalls, I noticed a huge poster advertising Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God. I sighed, knowing that Ehrman was probably going to be rehearsing—albeit in his own unique way—a well-worn story that I have heard a dozen times before: Jesus was not God; He did not think He was God; the whole thing about Jesus being divine got made up later and only crystallized at the behest of the Roman Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325. As popular as that story about how Jesus became God has been in both scholarship and the popular press, it is has one fatal flaw: Namely, it is demonstrably false.

After seeing Ehrman’s book advertised, I knew that my email inbox would be filling up with questions from people from all over the world asking about Ehrman’s book and how to respond to it. This has happened to me before. In the past I’ve received emails from Christians in the Middle East who have been confronted by Muslim apologists who were using arguments from Ehrman’s books to try to persuade them to leave Christianity and to convert to Islam. Given the topic and the conclusions that Ehrman reaches in his book about Jesus’ divinity, I cannot help but think that—with a hint of irony—Muslim and Jehovah’s Witnesses are going think that all their Christmases have come at once. Here is a former Christian debunking the idea that Jesus is God. You can’t get better than that.

Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s interview with Bart Ehrman on this weekend’s edition of Listening In, a production of WORLD Radio.

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