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Raining on Bart Ehrman’s Easter parade

"Raining on Bart Ehrman’s Easter parade" Continued...

No wonder, then, that the criterion of dissimilarity has been near universally abandoned and replaced with something far more credible, like a criterion of historical plausibility. We can regard a unit in the Gospels as claiming a high degree of historical authenticity when a saying or event attributed to Jesus makes sense within Judaism (i.e., plausible context) and also represents a starting point for the early church (i.e., a plausible consequence).

Rather than try to drain the theological dross from the historical silver in the Gospels through several fallible criteria, more recently scholars have been interested in the application of social memory research to the study of the historical Jesus. In other words, how did the things Jesus said and did create a memory in his followers, a memory that was faithfully transmitted, yet also refracted according to the theological framework that the early church was developing. In which case, we cannot hope to penetrate the impregnable bedrock of the church’s interpretation and proclamation of Jesus found in the Gospels and discover a deeper layer of historically accurate data laid beneath. At the end of the day the best way to read the Gospels responsibly and historically is to narrate the story of Jesus in a way that has realism and explanatory power—a story that makes Jesus fit plausibly into his Jewish context, that brings all of the sources together, that explains the shape and direction of the early church, and that accounts for why and how the Gospels are what they are. Allison again puts it well:

As historians of the Jesus tradition we are storytellers. We can do no more than aspire to fashion a narrative that is more persuasive than competing narratives, one that satisfies our aesthetic and historical sensibilities because of its apparent ability to clarify more data in a more satisfactory fashion than its rivals.

Ehrman’s entire approach to historical Jesus studies does not commend itself as a good way of doing history.

Dr. Michael F. Bird is lecturer in theology at Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry in Melbourne, Australia. His is a co-blogger of the New Testament blog Euangelion, the author or editor of numerous New Testament studies works, and one of the contributors to How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman.

Taken from How God Became Jesus by Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles E. Hill & Chris Tilling. Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Zondervan.

Jesus as divine in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

By Simon Gathercole

Perhaps surprisingly, Ehrman would answer [the question, is Jesus divine in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?]: Yes! At the same time, however, it is important to recognize what he means: in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus occupies a certain position in the divine hierarchy or pyramid, but he is certainly not at the top. He is divine, but not in the sense that he shares in the identity of the one God of Israel. Briefly in this section I aim, first, to set out some of the ways in which Jesus in these three Gospels demonstrates or implies his divine identity. Then, second, I will discuss briefly (more detail can be found in the chapters in this volume by Mike Bird and Chris Tilling) why this divine identity cannot be seen as a lower-grade divine identity, because of the absolute distinction between God and creation presupposed in the religious environment of the earliest disciples.

There are a number of points at which Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke does look like he has the privileges of YHWH, God himself. I have described this evidence in more detail elsewhere, and so I will only give a brief sketch here. Strikingly, Jesus says and does things that not only overlap with what God in the Old Testament says and does. Jesus says and does things that are privileges uniquely of the God of Israel. When Jesus speaks and acts this way, responses—unsurprisingly—include worship on the one hand and accusations of blasphemy on the other.

One of the most remarkable statements is Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, seen once in Matthew and Mark and twice in Luke (Mark 2:1–10 and parallels; also Luke 7:49). It is difficult to see this as merely something Jesus can do as a god low down in the divine pecking order because it is something—as the scribes in Mark 2 recognize—that is a prerogative uniquely of the one true God. This was something that no angel, prophet, or even nondivine Messiah, or any other figure, had the authority to do.

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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