As a biblical scholar with expertise in early Christian history, I spend most of my time teaching and writing about Jesus, the early church, and the development of Christian thought.
In many ways, I am the anti-type of Bart Ehrman—a biblical scholar with a university doctorate and a modest quiver of publications under my belt who has shifted from the secular to the sacred, transitioned from skepticism to faith. Consequently, I do not see Jesus as merely another man whom people later venerated as a god. No, when I look to Jesus, I see that God is with us and for us, because he became one of us. I believe that God became a man, Jesus of Nazareth.
Fighting for the Faith
When I heard Ehrman had a forthcoming book about how Jesus became God, my interest was piqued. I'm intimately familiar with Ehrman's earlier works—and I often enjoy them—so I had a pretty good idea where he was going with this topic.
I also knew that while Ehrman could be informative, his retelling of church history could also be wildly skewed in some places. So I teamed up with four colleagues (Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, Chris Tilling, and Charles Hill), all leading authorities in their own fields, to publish an immediate response to Ehrman. We read Ehrman's manuscript over the winter and set out to write How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus' Divine Nature. In this book, we challenge Ehrman on the when, where, how, and who of the origins of belief in Jesus as God incarnate.
For many secularists, Ehrman is a godsend who propagates common misconceptions about Jesus and the early church. He believes there was a spectrum of divinity between gods and humans in the ancient world. Therefore, he asserts that the early church's beliefs about Jesus evolved: from a man exalted to heaven to an angel who became human to a pre-existent "divine" person who became incarnate to a subordinated or lesser god to being declared one with God.
My faith and studies have led me to believe otherwise. First-century Jews and early Christians clearly demarcated God from all other reality, thus leading them to hold to a very strict monotheism. That said, Jesus was not seen as a Greek god like Zeus who trotted about earth or a human being who morphed into an angel at death. Rather, the first Christians redefined the concept of "one God" around the person and work of Jesus Christ. Not to mention the New Testament writers, especially Luke and Paul, consistently identify Jesus with the God of Israel.
Many people get the idea that Jesus was just a prophet and never claimed to be divine. But a careful look at the Gospels shows that the historical Jesus explicitly claimed to exercise divine prerogatives. He identified himself with God's activity in the world. He believed that in his own person, Israel's God was returning to Zion, just as the prophets had promised. And he claimed he would sit on God's throne. These claims, when studied up close, are de facto claims to divine personhood, the reasons religious leaders of the day were so outraged.
Evidence shows that Jesus claimed to be God incarnate, and within 20-some years after his death and resurrection, Christians were identifying him with the God of Israel, using the language and grammar of the Old Testament to do so.
Sure, some sects in the first few centuries held heretical beliefs about Jesus. But the mainstream, orthodox view of Christ's identity was always consistent with and rooted in the New Testament, though orthodox Christology became more refined in the following centuries.