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Raining on Bart Ehrman’s Easter parade

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

But there is a prime witness who needs to be called at this point—Paul. Not so much Paul the apostle, but Saul the Pharisee. It is notable that in Paul’s writings there is an absolutely rigid and inflexible boundary between God the Creator and the created cosmos, a divide that is fundamental to his theology. At various points Paul contrasts God and creation and emphasizes that “from him and through him and for him are all things” (Rom 11:36). But the key statement comes in his condemnation of idolatry in Romans 1. What is fundamentally wrong with idolatry? The answer is that it is worship of the creation rather than its Creator: “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised” (Rom 1:25).

Why is Paul such a key witness? The answer is that he was active as a Pharisee just around the time of Jesus’ ministry and its immediate aftermath, at the beginning of the “tunnel period” when Ehrman sees so much crucial development. Scholars generally agree, I think rightly, that the basic Creator/creation distinction was not a radically new thought for Paul at his conversion. His ideas about idolatry and its basis expressed in Rom 1:25 are almost certainly views he held earlier. Such a view reflects the milieu in which Jesus and the earliest disciples after the first Easter were active. We see this expressed in the response of the scribes and the high priest to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as well as in the view of Saul of Tarsus.

The implications of this are significant for how we regard the divine identity of Jesus. It implies that when Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke says and does things that in the Old Testament are divine prerogatives, it can only be because he shares in the identity of the God of Israel.

Dr. Simon Gathercole is senior lecturer in New Testament Studies and fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge. He is the author of Where Is Boasting? and The Pre-existent Son (both Eerdmans), as well as The Gospel of Judas (Oxford University Press) and The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas (Cambridge University Press). He previously edited the Journal for the Study of the New Testament, as is currently co-editor of Early Christianity.

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.

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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