“How God Became Jesus,” a Review

RNS-EHRMAN-BOOK bWhat do leprechauns doing the limbo, Ghostbusters, and jihadist fundraisers have in common? If you guessed the 1980s you’d be close, but not quite right. The answer is that you’d be reading Michael Bird’s recent editorial work How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature. The book is a response to Bart Ehrman’s recent book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee. Is the truth of Christianity something that one can investigate or do we need to take it on faith?  Bird points out, “exactly when, where, and why Christians first began to make such elevated claims about Jesus’ heavenly origins and divine nature is a historical question and one that can only be answered through a concerted investigation of the evidence.” I take it that the answer to “why Christians first began” to make claims about Jesus runs awfully close to the answer of the question of “Whether Jesus of Nazareth really is God.” In fact, the answer to the former might inform the answer to the latter. Bird’s first chapter (after the intro) deals with Ehrman’s recent token phrase, ‘In what sense was [Jesus] god.’ Ehrman argues that perhaps Jesus was something like what pagans believed about descending gods and ascending humans to divine status. However, he comes awfully close to the parallelomania that he himself fights against the Jesus mythers. Bird’s second chapter is on what Jesus thought of himself. Ehrman thinks that Jesus thought of himself as the Messiah but not the Son of Man. This leads to a number of intellectually uncomfortable conclusions that Bird makes light of. Craig Evans tackles Ehrman’s shift in his thinking about what happened to Jesus’s body in the fourth chapter. Ehrman previously believed that Jesus’s burial in a tomb was historically likely but now thinks Jesus did not receive a burial of that sort. Evans illustrates how it is perfectly likely that Jesus received such a burial because the Romans permitted the Jews to live under their own laws and archeological evidence confirms the burial of crucified people. In chapter 5, Simon Gathercole looks at the Christological claims of the Synoptic Gospels and during the period before any New Testament works were written. Essential, Gathercole seeks to answer the question of how the earliest Christians thought of Jesus. He argues in support of the Early High Christology Club, in favor of an orthodox view against Ehrman’s heretical exaltation and adoptionist Christologies. Chris Tilling provides chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 6 is devoted to analyzing the poor interpretative lenses Ehrman provides on various concepts/terms such as monotheism, ‘divine,’ ‘God,’ ‘Almighty,’ and his two Christologies. In chapter 7, Tilling interacts with Ehrman’s limited view of Paul’s Christology.  Tilling argues that Ehrman’s Pauline Christology is very poor because Ehrman only looks at one passage (Philippians 2:6-11) and this fails to consider other data contrary to Ehrman’s narrative. Charles Hill uses the final two chapters to take us on a journey outside of the New Testament time period and into the early church. Hill illustrates how Ehrman’s paradigm of heresies is poorly constructed and how he makes some dubious statements on a number of historical matters. It becomes clear that Ehrman’s philosophical presuppostions begin to cloud his historical judgment. Additionally we’re reminded by Hill of the thoroughly orthodox nature of the church fathers and their commitment to the biblical text. I really enjoyed reading this book and have only one critique: I wish they provided footnotes instead of endnotes. I dislike having to turn to the back of the book to look at the citations. But this is a very small criticism and it isn’t anything against the authors’ work. I would highly recommend this book to students of theology, biblical studies/criticism, and apologetics. Michael Bird’s candor and wit make theology and biblical studies a bit more fun for the reader. His rhetorical flair is precisely what is needed in the culture today to respond to the deceptive assertions made by Ehrman. I’d love to set up a debate between these two and let them duke it out.
Kurt Jaros is the Executive Director of Defenders Media and the host of the Veracity Hill podcast.

1 Comment

  1. […] Jaros also posted a review of HGBJ and I plead indulgence to quote him: “Michael Bird’s candor and wit make theology […]

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