Bart Ehrman’s book How Jesus Became God, released just yesterday, is the most recent example of a scholarly tradition of books with similar titles offering to explain how Christianity turned a simple itinerant Jewish teacher into the Second Person of the Trinity. Two of the earlier, notable such books were Richard Rubenstein’s When Jesus Became God (1999) and Larry Hurtado’s How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (2005). In what may be an unprecedented publishing event, a book by evangelical scholars critiquing Ehrman’s book was released at the same time yesterday, entitled How God Became Jesus. The concurrent publication of the rebuttal book was facilitated by the fact that its publishing house, Zondervan, is owned by HarperCollins, which published Ehrman’s book under the HarperOne imprint.

Ehrman, of course, has more name recognition in the English-speaking world than any other biblical scholar today, due especially to his de-conversion story (enthusiastically disseminated in the mainstream media) of abandoning evangelical Christian belief and becoming an agnostic. Sadly, he is probably a hundred times better known than any of the five scholars who contributed to How God Became Jesus. In particular, it is a shame that Craig A. Evans is not better known. Evans is also the author of what I consider the stand-out chapter responding to Ehrman. More on that later.

An Overview of the Two Books

Ehrman’s thesis is that Jesus was not viewed, by himself or his disciples, as in any sense divine during his lifetime, but that belief in his divinity arose almost immediately after his disciples had visions of Jesus that they interpreted as meaning that God had raised him bodily from the dead. According to Ehrman, the earliest Christians thought Jesus had been exalted by God to a divine status at his resurrection, but this belief quickly morphed, resulting in the idea that Jesus was God incarnate. The premise of his argument is that the category of divinity was an elastic one in the ancient world, even to some extent in Jewish thought, and so first-century Christians were able to entertain quite different conceptions of what it meant to regard Jesus as divine or even as “God” (a point Ehrman elaborates in two chapters, 11-84). Here is a chronological schematic summary of Ehrman’s view (parenthetical page references are to Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God):

  1. Jesus taught an apocalyptic message that the present age was about to come to an end, that the righteous would be raised to immortal life, and that in the age to come he would be an earthly, royal Messiah associated with another figure, the Son of Man. He did not consider himself to be divine in any sense (86-127).
  2. After Jesus was crucified in the year 30, his corpse was left on the cross for an unknown period of time, and was probably not given a decent burial (133-65). Meanwhile, his disciples fled to Galilee, where a week or more later perhaps as few as three of them had visionary experiences akin to bereavement visions, in which they thought Jesus appeared to them (174-206).
  3. The disciples interpreted these visions in the light of the apocalyptic doctrine Jesus had taught them, concluding that Jesus had risen bodily from the dead and that the age to come would overtly commence very soon. To defend the bodily resurrection belief, it eventually became necessary to create the story of the empty tomb, for which Mark, written about the year 70, is the earliest witness (166-69).
  4. On the basis of their belief in Jesus’ singular resurrection combined with the fact that he was obviously no longer physically present on earth, the disciples inferred that Jesus had been taken to heaven and exalted by God. Jesus was now the Messiah, the Son of Man (whom Jesus had regarded as a separate figure), and the adopted divine Son of God (207-209). Ehrman finds this earliest “exaltation Christology,” dating from the early 30s, in preliterary creedal or poetic statements imbedded in Paul (Rom. 1:3-4) and Acts (2:36; 5:31; 13:32-33), even though he recognizes that neither Paul nor Luke held to this view (216-35).
  5. Christians quickly began pushing back the time when Jesus “became” divine or acquired some sort of divine status from his resurrection to an earlier moment. Some held that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22 [variant]) or at his conception and birth (Luke 1:35). Pushing Jesus’ divine sonship back to his conception in effect abandons the “exaltation” model of Christology insofar as it makes Jesus divine from the beginning of his existence, but it is not yet an “incarnational” model because Jesus is not seen as a preexistent being (240-44).
  6. Sometime prior to Paul’s earliest epistles, perhaps in the 40s, an alternate Christology emerged in which Jesus was viewed as God’s chief angel who became human. This early “incarnation Christology” is not associated with the virgin birth, which is found only in Matthew and Luke. Paul himself viewed Jesus as the angel of the Lord, an idea Ehrman finds in Galatians 4:14 (252-53). Ehrman thinks this view can be detected also in the preliterary poetic confession that Paul quotes in Philippians 2:6-11, though he finds a trace of the older “exaltation” Christology remaining in the passage (253-66). Ehrman also explains how this angel Christology fits with other Christological statements in Paul, especially Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4; 2 Corinthians 4:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6, another pre-Pauline creed; and even Romans 9:5, which Ehrman thinks calls Jesus “God” in the same way the chief angel of the Lord was called God (266-69). Later Ehrman characterizes Hebrews 1 as very close to an incarnational Christology but like Philippians 2 retaining “a hint of exaltation Christology” (280-81).
  7. After Paul and the Synoptic Gospels, a more developed form of incarnation Christology emerged, evident in preliterary materials used in the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18) and in the so-called Colossians hymn (Col. 1:15-20). The Gospel of John represents the latest form of this Christology attested in the first century Christian writings. It views Jesus as having existed as the divine Wisdom from before creation, in some respect like a divine hypostasis but in others like a separate being, but in any case equal to God (269-80).
  8. In the centuries following the New Testament period, various Christological “dead ends” appeared in the second and third centuries, against which church leaders developed dogmatic distinctions between “orthodox” and “heretical” doctrines. The orthodox model that developed insisted that Christ had to be fully human and fully divine, distinct from God the Father, yet not a different God than the Father—criteria that led to the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity (284-352).

The five international contributors to How God Became Jesus generally tackle distinct parts of Ehrman’s book, though one will occasionally comment on another’s assigned topic. (Page numbers cited in this paragraph refer to How God Became Jesus.) Michael Bird, a contributor and the general editor of the book, teaches theology at Ridley College in Australia and is the author of a recent lengthy textbook on Evangelical Theology. Bird has also written extensively on the Messiah in biblical studies. Bird authored the preface, conclusion, introductory chapter, a chapter responding to Ehrman’s two chapters on “divine humans” in ancient Greco-Roman and Jewish thought (22-44), and a chapter arguing that Jesus did view himself as divine (45-70). Craig A. Evans teaches New Testament at Acadia Divinity School in Canada. He is the author of excellent commentaries on all of the Synoptic Gospels and numerous other publications, and is widely recognized as a historical Jesus scholar of the highest caliber. Evans contributed a chapter defending the historicity of the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (71-93). Simon Gathercole, a lecturer in New Testament at Cambridge, is the author of a well-received book on the preexistence of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels and is an expert on the apocryphal gospels. Gathercole contributed a chapter on the earliest Christian view of Jesus, addressing some of Ehrman’s arguments from the Synoptic Gospels and preliterary materials in Paul and Acts (94-116). Chris Tilling teaches New Testament at St. Mellitus College in London and is the author of a recent published doctoral dissertation on Paul’s Divine Christology, and so he naturally contributed chapters responding to Ehrman’s interpretation of Paul (117-50). Finally, Charles E. Hill, a New Testament scholar at Reformed Theological Seminary in Florida, is the author of a notable recent work on the Gospels. Hill contributed the last two chapters, responding to Ehrman on the development of Christology after the New Testament period (151-200).

Since I am a staunch evangelical Christian and (worse still, in some people’s estimation!) one of those evangelical Christian apologists that Ehrman disparages, one might expect me to offer a thoroughly partisan review that is highly critical of Ehrman and laudatory of Bird and his co-authors. And in terms of the theological conclusions toward which they argue, obviously I agree with Bird and company but disagree vigorously with Ehrman. Nevertheless, what I hope to offer here is a fair-minded assessment of the books.

Ehrman: How Jesus Became God

Let’s start with Ehrman. (Parenthetical page references in this section are to Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God.) I think evangelicals should be quick to acknowledge and even capitalize on a large number of agreements that they can have with Ehrman about Jesus and Christology. These include but are not limited to the following facts:

  • Jesus was a real historical person, a Galilean Jew who preached the kingdom of God. Ehrman has devoted a whole book to defending this fact.
  • The canonical Gospels are the earliest and, for all practical purposes, the only valuable sources of detailed information about the historical Jesus. The “Gnostic” gospels and other apocryphal writings date from much later and are not significant sources of historical information about Jesus.
  • Jesus thought he was, or at least would become, the Messiah.
  • Jesus was crucified at the order of Pontius Pilate.
  • Jesus actually died on the cross.
  • Some of Jesus’ original followers sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive from the dead.

(Already, we’ve eliminated about 90 percent of the nonsense we so often hear from skeptics about Jesus! And we’re not done.)

  • The belief that Jesus rose from the dead convinced Jesus’ disciples, practically immediately, that he was a divine figure, exalted to the right hand of God. The very earliest Christians thus made some astounding claims about Jesus.
  • The belief that Jesus was a divine figure who existed before his human life was accepted by at least some Christians within twenty years of Jesus’ death, even before Paul’s earliest epistles. (Say good-bye to the baloney about Paul radically changing Christianity from Jesus’ Jewish moral code to a Hellenized savior cult.)
  • Philippians 2:6-11 teaches that Jesus Christ was a preexistent divine figure who became a human being; Ehrman rejects the “Adamic” interpretation of the passage that tries to circumvent the preexistence of Christ.
  • Paul calls Jesus “God” in Romans 9:5!
  • John clearly teaches that Jesus existed before creation in some way distinct from God the Father, yet he was “God” and was equal to God. (Jehovah’s Witnesses, take note.) Furthermore, John did not originate this view, because the Johannine Prologue derives from a pre-Johannine source.

One could hardly wish for more agreements and even concessions from the world’s most influential agnostic biblical scholar. Actually, I suspect it is precisely because Ehrman takes such reasonable views of the New Testament in many respects that he has been so successful, both in his scholarship and in his public polemics. Daniel Wallace, probably the leading evangelical scholar in the field of New Testament textual criticism (which is also Ehrman’s forte), has observed that he and Ehrman agree on the basic facts about the New Testament manuscripts. They even usually agree on which variant reading is the best, even in such highly controversial passages as the pericopae adulterae (John 7:53-8:11) and the long ending of Mark (Mark 16:9-20). A scholar advocating extreme positions or handling critical questions in a wildly irresponsible way would not be nearly so persuasive.

Having given credit where credit is due, I must move on to identify what I think are some of the weakest links in Ehrman’s argument.

1. Ehrman’s foundational premise of the fluidity of ancient concepts of the divine is certainly a major problem. Ehrman rightly finds such fluidity in Greco-Roman thought, but what he never addresses even once is the consistent, pervasive opposition to Greco-Roman notions of the divine throughout the New Testament—even when he touches on obviously relevant passages. For example, Ehrman discusses the tale of Jupiter and Mercury (or Zeus and Hermes) visiting Phrygia for over three pages (19-22), commenting on the incident reported in Acts when Barnabas and Paul preached in Phrygia and were mistaken for Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:8-18). But Ehrman glosses over Paul’s response to the Phrygians, commenting only that Paul took the opportunity “to preach his gospel message in order to convert the people” (21). In fact, Paul’s response is a summons to the Phrygians to turn from their idolatrous beliefs to accept the God of Jewish monotheism, the God who made everything and who rules over all nature (Acts 14:15-17). Generalizations about “divine humans” in antiquity are simply irrelevant to understanding the origins of a Jewish movement that regarded its crucified human founder as God.

Ehrman presents three models of the divine human in Greco-Roman culture: “gods who temporarily become human” (19-22), “divine beings born of a god and a mortal” (22-24), and “a human who becomes divine” (25-38). He admits that the case of Jesus does not fit any of these: “I don’t know of any other cases in ancient Greek or Roman thought of this kind of ‘god-man,’ where an already existing divine being is said to be born of a mortal woman” (18). He could have added to that sentence, “or Jewish thought.” I would suggest that this is the Achilles’ heel of Ehrman’s whole account of Christian origins. By his own admission, the Christian view of Jesus—a view he admits emerged within twenty years of Jesus’ crucifixion—was literally unprecedented.

2. A second notable weakness in Ehrman’s theory is his claim that Jesus expected to fill the role of the Messiah but not of the Son of Man. This interpretation gets its initial plausibility from the fact that Jesus routinely referred to the Son of Man in the third person. However, even in most of the Synoptic Son of Man sayings, it is quite clear in the immediate context that Jesus is referring to himself (Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 11:19; 12:8; 16:13; 17:22-23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2, 24, 45; Mark 2:10; 8:31; 9:31; 10:33; 14:21, 41; Luke 5:24; 7:34; 9:22, 44, 58; 19:10; 22:22, 48). The Messiah and the Son of Man are both understood as eschatological figures that receive an eternal kingdom on behalf of God’s people; it is simply not plausible that Jesus, who used the title Son of Man incessantly and rarely used the title Messiah or Christ, claimed to be the latter but not the former.

3. Ehrman’s main thesis on its face appears completely lacking in credibility. According to Ehrman, whereas Jesus did not view himself as anything more than a man and did not expect to become anything more than a glorious earthly king, within a few weeks or months of Jesus’ death his original followers were sincerely proclaiming that Jesus was a divine figure ruling over all creation at God’s right hand in heaven. Keep in mind that in Ehrman’s mind, Jesus did not rise from the dead and did not actually speak to his disciples after his death. Nor does Ehrman suggest that the disciples thought Jesus had made these stupendous claims about himself during his appearances to them. Rather, Ehrman credits the disciples with inferring these things about Jesus by interpreting their visionary experiences in the light of the apocalyptic worldview he had taught them before his death (205-206). What all this means is that Ehrman’s view requires that Jesus’ original disciples, who had walked all over Galilee and Judea with him and listened to him teach for hours on end, simply discounted Jesus’ own self-image as nothing more than the future human Messiah.

4. To make his theory work, Ehrman has abandoned his earlier view that the burial of Jesus in a tomb just outside Jerusalem was historically likely. He now accepts something like John Dominic Crossan’s view that Jesus received no decent burial at all. In a way, denying the tomb is a smart move on Ehrman’s part. As long as he acknowledged both the tomb and the appearances, he remained vulnerable to the vise grip of the historical argument for the Resurrection. Accept the empty tomb and discount the appearances, and you can postulate that the body was moved or stolen or lost. Accept the appearances and reject the empty tomb, and you can speculate that the disciples had hallucinations or “bereavement visions.” Accept both the empty tomb and the appearances and you have to come up with a blatantly ad hoc explanation like Greg Cavin’s identical-twin theory (what William Lane Craig mischievously labeled “the Dave theory”) or strain credulity by accepting two unrelated explanations for the evidence (e.g., the body was stolen and the disciples had hallucinations). So Ehrman, who knows he cannot deny that at least some of the disciples had experiences in which they thought they saw Jesus alive from the dead, has gone the more sensible skeptical route and questioned the burial in the tomb. But this move, while sensible enough from his agnostic perspective, lands him in evidential hot water, because the evidence that the Gospels are telling the truth about the empty tomb is very good.

5. Ehrman’s attempts to explain the appearances of Jesus naturalistically ignore entirely the testimony of the apostle Paul that Jesus had appeared to him when Paul was still a persecutor of Christians. Ehrman quietly omits any mention of Paul’s experience throughout his treatment of the resurrection appearances in the fifth chapter of his book. Then, having finished with the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, at the beginning of chapter 6 Ehrman says only that Paul, after converting to faith in Jesus, “later claimed that this was because he had had a vision of Jesus alive, long after his death” (214, emphasis added). That is all he says—and it is difficult even to take his statement seriously. That Paul sincerely thought he had a vision of the risen Christ is really beyond debate. That fact is a stubborn datum that Ehrman failed to incorporate into his account of the origins of the Christian movement.

6. Finally (though obviously much more could be said), Ehrman labors to defend the premise that the apostle Paul thought Jesus was the chief angel come in the flesh. He has one proof text for this claim—Galatians 4:14, where Paul reminds the Galatians that when he visited them they welcomed him “as [hōs] an angel of God, as [hōs] Christ Jesus.” It is just barely possible that here angelon theou means “the angel of the Lord” and that Paul is equating Christ Jesus with that mysterious figure, who in the Old Testament is sometimes treated as identical to God. However, it is far more likely that Paul’s language is progressive or ascending: the Galatians treated him as if he were an angel of God, and even as if he were Christ Jesus himself. Ehrman claims that the construction requires an equating of the two referents, but this is incorrect. For example, in Psalm 35:14 (34:14 LXX) the same construction appears in the statement that the psalmist treated others “as a friend, as our brother” (hōs plēsion hōs adelphon hēmeteron; for other examples see Ps. 83:13 [84:14 LXX]; Song of Sol. 1:5; Isa. 53:2; Ezek. 19:10). Earlier in the same passage in Galatians, Paul has just spoken of two divine persons sent from heaven by God:

But when the fullness of time had come,
God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
to redeem those who were under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
And because you are sons,
God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6 ESV)

The “angel of the Lord” in the Old Testament is never called God’s “son,” and Paul never clearly calls Jesus an angel. It therefore is an uphill climb to make a case for Ehrman’s view that Paul held to a Christology in which Jesus was an angel come in the flesh. But without this piece of the puzzle, Ehrman’s case for an evolution (albeit a very rapid evolution!) of Christology from an exaltation model to an incarnation model has a glaring missing link.

Bird and Friends: How God Became Jesus

Bird, Evans, Gathercole, Tilling, and Hill all make commendable contributions to the collaborative response to Ehrman in How God Became Jesus (to which parenthetical page numbers refer in this section). Since I am interested in the New Testament issues, I will not be commenting further on Hill’s chapters.

Unfortunately, there are significant gaps in How God Became Jesus, given its purpose of critiquing the argument of Ehrman’s book. The most egregious omission is the lack of any response to Ehrman’s fifth chapter, in which he explains why he thinks the resurrection of Jesus cannot be accepted on historical grounds. Apparently, no one was available to address Ehrman’s arguments concerning Jesus’ appearances, the central issue in that chapter.

Michael Bird’s chapter responding to Ehrman’s view of “divine humans” in antiquity, in my estimation, is less than satisfactory. I agree with Bird’s position and usually agree with his arguments; unfortunately, he gives very little in the way of direct response to Ehrman. For example, he spends two pages discussing the angelic figure Metatron (31-33), which is never mentioned in Ehrman’s book, while giving barely seven lines to dismissing the relevance of Philostratus’s account of Apollonius of Tyana on the grounds of its lateness (26), despite the fact that Ehrman makes Apollonius “exhibit A” in his argument. Neither Bird nor any of the other contributors engage Ehrman’s extended discussions of the relevance of the Roman emperor cult for the origins of belief in Jesus as divine. Most of Bird’s response to Ehrman regarding angelic intermediate figures emphasizes Jesus’ authority over angels (36-39), a line of argument that fails to engage Ehrman’s position, which is not that Jesus was viewed as simply one of the angels but that he was regarded as the chief angel, who would of course be over all of the other angels. I must also express some concern about Bird’s excessive attempts at humor, such as this statement: “The Jewish people in the Roman era had an acute case of ‘mono,’ not mononucleosis from playing spin the bottle with dirty Gentile teenagers, but monotheism and monolatry” (30). Some readers may like these unpredictable gag lines, but I find them distracting. A more helpful critique of Ehrman’s views on monotheism, though not engaging enough of the specific texts, comes in the first of Tilling’s two chapters (122-29).

Bird’s chapter on whether Jesus viewed himself as God (45-70) is rather better. Bird does an especially good job in rebutting Ehrman’s claim that Jesus viewed himself as the future Messiah but not as the Son of Man (61-66). Bird also helpfully shows that in the Old Testament the coming of the Messiah was described also as the coming of God, finding this theme notably in Isaiah 40:3 and mentioning John the Baptist’s use of that text (54-57). If only Bird had closed the circuit of the argument and explained why the citation of Isaiah 40:3 in the context of the Synoptics indicates that Jesus is himself the Lord coming to his people! Unfortunately, this chapter also has some glaring omissions and one regrettable miscue. Bird does not address Ehrman’s basic characterization of Jesus’ proclamation as that of an impending apocalypse that proved false when Jesus was executed by the Romans. Obviously, if Jesus’ prophetic message was false, he could not really have been divine. Bird also misrepresents Ehrman as claiming that a saying of Jesus was authentic “only” if it was dissimilar to Christian belief (50). In fact, Ehrman claimed that a saying was “more likely” to be historically authentic if it was out of sync with the conventional Christian belief. I should also mention that some evangelicals will find Bird’s assessment of the historical reliability of the Gospel of John to be too cautious. “Many of its unique sayings about Jesus are probably based on a mixture of memory, metaphor, and midrash” (68).

As I have already mentioned, Craig Evans’s treatment on the burial of Jesus is the stand-out chapter of the book. Evans rightly criticizes Ehrman’s argument from silence regarding the omission of the name of Joseph of Arimathea from the pre-Pauline confession of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (90-91). Evans shows, against Ehrman, that rabbinical and Qumran texts attest to the Sanhedrin taking responsibility for the burial of executed criminals (80-81, 88-89). This means that the supposed discrepancy between Acts 13:29 and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial (even Luke’s account!) evaporates. Evans is especially in his element when he documents painstakingly from both literary and archaeological evidence that burial in a tomb was not, as Ehrman had argued at length, inconsistent with Roman policies and practices regarding criminals who were crucified (73-80, 83-86). This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.

Gathercole does a satisfactory, competent job of critiquing Ehrman’s arguments for a primitive “exaltation Christology” that regarded Jesus as simply a man whom God exalted at his resurrection. He presents a brief overview of his argument for the preexistence of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels and a brief but good rebuttal to Ehrman’s claim that in Mark Jesus was adopted as God’s son at his baptism (96-99). Gathercole also shows that Ehrman’s method of extracting a non-Pauline Christology from Paul (Rom. 1:3-4) and a non-Lukan Christology from the speeches in Acts (Acts 2:36; 13:32-33) is question-begging (103-110). The one issue that does not receive attention is the virgin birth of Jesus.

Finally, Tilling’s two chapters are frustratingly thin when dealing with the specific texts of the epistles covered in Ehrman’s corresponding two chapters. This is largely due to the fact that he devotes one of his chapters to global issues, critiquing Ehrman’s “interpretive categories” (117-33), and so has little room left apparently for engaging the texts. (As noted above, Tilling does give some of the most helpful critical replies to Ehrman’s views on monotheism.) In that chapter he does give about a page to criticizing Ehrman’s use of Galatians 4:14 (121-22), yet without offering any exegesis of the text! Instead, an endnote refers the reader to other publications (223 n. 15). Tilling faults Ehrman for not providing extended exegesis of New Testament passages other than Philippians 2:6-11, a criticism that ironically would apply more to Tilling’s material than to Ehrman’s (147-48). And I must confess some irritation at Tilling dismissing the relevance of Romans 9:5—even questioning whether it does refer to Jesus as God (144-45)—instead of showing from the context that Paul’s wording reveals Jesus to be the supreme God of all, not his lieutenant angel.


The doctrine that God became man is not a late development in the history of Christianity. It is found, in one way or another, on practically every page of the New Testament. This is why, in the book I co-authored with Ed Komoszewski on the deity of Christ, we cited every book and nearly every chapter of the New Testament. What we did not do, overtly, in that book was to present that material in a chronological, historical manner, in order to address skeptical arguments for the development of divine Christology in the New Testament. There is still good work to be done in this area.

Ehrman has done the church a service by reminding us that the issues of the resurrection of Christ and the deity of Christ are inextricably linked. He has also thrown down a challenge to Christian scholars to make the case for both of these truths in a fresh way that engages the evidence within a broader range of religious studies. Ehrman may be at his most polemically effective when he asks why we should believe in Jesus’ resurrection but not in Marian apparitions or the first vision of Joseph Smith. It is perhaps understandable why professional New Testament scholars skirt or simply miss these questions, which are never addressed in How God Became Jesus. That is too bad, because a critical engagement with those comparative religious studies subjects can only help the cause of Christian scholarship. In a society increasingly aware of the multiplicity of competing religious claims in the intellectual and spiritual marketplace, we cannot afford to ignore those questions.


[1] Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014).

[2] Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1999); Larry W. Hurtado, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). A much earlier book with the same main title as Ehrman’s was Conrad Henry Moehlman, How Jesus Became God: An Historical Study of the Life of Jesus to the Age of Constantine (New York: Philosophical Library, 1960), by a liberal Baptist theologian.

[3] Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).

[4] Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013). See also Are You the One Who Is to Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009); Jesus Is the Christ: The Messianic Testimony of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012).

[5] General readers will be especially interested in the following books by Craig A. Evans: Jesus and the Ossuaries (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003); Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006); Holman QuickSource Guide to the Dead Sea Scrolls (Nashville: B&H, 2010); and Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012). Evans is also the editor of numerous academic reference works, perhaps most notably The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus (New York: Routledge, 2010).

[6] Simon J. Gathercole, The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006). See also The Gospel of Judas: Rewriting Early Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); The Composition of the Gospel of Thomas: Original Language and Influences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[7] Chris Tilling, Paul’s Divine Christology, WUNT 2/233 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012).

[8] Charles E. Hill, Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). See also his earlier work The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[9] Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, 172-73, 199.

[10] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (New York: HarperOne, 2012).

[11] Daniel B. Wallace, in The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart D. Ehrman and Daniel B. Wallace in Dialogue, ed. Robert B. Stewart (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 28-29.

[12] As suggested in Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 252. Wallace’s suggestion that angelon is to be taken as definite (“the angel of the Lord”) is possible but seems less likely when Gal. 4:14 is read in light of Gal. 1:8 (“but even if we or an angel from heaven…”), since the two texts are thematically related.

[13] On this passage, see Robert M. Bowman Jr. and J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007), 88-89.

[14] Ehrman, How Jesus Became God, 11-18.

[15] Ibid., 27-34, 48-49, 234-35.

[16] Ibid., 99-112.

[17] Ibid., 97-98.

[18] On Romans 9:5, see Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 146-48, and the references cited there, and now George Carroway, Christ Is God Over All: Romans 9:5 in the Context of Romans 9-11, Library of NT Studies 489 (London: T&T Clark, 2013).

[19] See the scripture index in Bowman and Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place, 376-92.

Robert Bowman
Robert Bowman

Robert M. Bowman Jr. (born 1957) is an American Evangelical Christian theologian specializing in the study of apologetics.

    53 replies to "How Jesus Became God—or How God Became Jesus? A Review of Bart Ehrman’s New Book and a Concurrent Response"

    • keijo leppioja

      So fantastic are to know in love that Jesus is God too from beginng of all creations and he came man too to born of the Holy Spirit in miracles and so wonderful he is to love and follow and be thankful, for his blood wash aways sin and he is he has powe to heal around the world today again thanks and bless and pray,keijo sweden

    • Patrick Goggins

      I read “How Jesus Became God” and the refutation, “How God Became Jesus.” Both books explained progressive Christology, how almost all Christologies – high and low – were around very early on, and how, chronologically, these Christologies were *eliminated*, from low to high, as the nascent church built its orthodoxy.

      My comments, and these goes to both books, are: 1) they assume that Jesus’s ministry was apocalyptic, when Crossan and others make a good case that Jesus’s ministry was sapiential – that is, present here now and attainable through adhering to the law, and 2) that the Pauline epistles are the earliest source writings – when the Epistle of James the Just arguable pre-dates them.

      For further discussion of these comments, and a thorough review of both books, please check out my Reader’s Guide to Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God.

      This is the latest in a series which includes my best-selling Reader’s Guide to Reza Aslan’s Zealot , and my Reader’s Guide to Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus .

    • gary

      And his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket. And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples but they are all afraid of him for they did not believe he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him. And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea and set him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:25-30)

      And (Ananias) . . .said, The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; and you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name. When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple I fell into a trance and saw him saying to me, ‘Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me. And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in very synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ (Acts 22:14-21)

      But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia; and I still was not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judea; they only heard it said, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy. (Galatians 1:15-23)

      My conclusion: Paul either had a very poor memory, was mentally ill, or lied about what he did in the weeks, months, and first few years after his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. Yet, Christians base their belief in the Resurrection, the pinnacle event of their faith, on this man’s testimony, which in his own words, was a “heavenly vision” of a talking, bright light…along with the writings of four anonymous first century authors, writing decades after the alleged event, in a foreign language, in far away foreign lands, for purposes we do not and will never know.

      That isn’t evidence, folks. That is speculation, superstition, and fantasy.

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