Book Announcement: How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature – A Response to Bart Ehrman

Book Announcement: How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature – A Response to Bart Ehrman January 27, 2014

Bart Ehrman has a new book due out in March titled, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (New York: HarperOne, 2014). I blogged about it earlier here. The blurb for the book on reads:

New York Times bestselling author and Bible expert Bart Ehrman reveals how Jesus’s divinity became dogma in the first few centuries of the early church. The claim at the heart of the Christian faith is that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God. But this is not what the original disciples believed during Jesus’s lifetime—and it is not what Jesus claimed about himself. How Jesus Became God tells the story of an idea that shaped Christianity, and of the evolution of a belief that looked very different in the fourth century than it did in the first. A master explainer of Christian history, texts, and traditions, Ehrman reveals how an apocalyptic prophet from the backwaters of rural Galilee crucified for crimes against the state came to be thought of as equal with the one God Almighty, Creator of all things. But how did he move from being a Jewish prophet to being God? In a book that took eight years to research and write, Ehrman sketches Jesus’s transformation from a human prophet to the Son of God exalted to divine status at his resurrection. Only when some of Jesus’s followers had visions of him after his death—alive again—did anyone come to think that he, the prophet from Galilee, had become God. And what they meant by that was not at all what people mean today. Written for secular historians of religion and believers alike, How Jesus Became God will engage anyone interested in the historical developments that led to the affirmation at the heart of Christianity: Jesus was, and is, God.

I’ve read a pre-pub manuscript of the book, but for various reasons, I cannot talk about or comment upon the contents. What I can say is that I’ve teamed up with Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, Chris Tilling, and Charles Hill to bring you a book length response to Ehrman’s work that will be simultaneously released. It is called:

How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature – A Response to Bart Ehrman (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

Cover is not ready yet, but its coming! Here’s the blurb:

In his recent book How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee(March 2014) historian Bart Ehrman explores a claim that resides at the heart of the Christian faith— that Jesus of Nazareth was, and is, God. According to Ehrman though, this is not what the original disciples believed about Jesus, nor what Jesus claimed about himself. The first book length response to this latest challenge to Christianity from Ehrman, How God Became Jesus features the work of five internationally recognized biblical scholars. While subjecting his claims to critical scrutiny, they offer a better, historically informed account of why the Galilean preacher from Nazareth came to be hailed as “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Namely, they contend, the exalted place of Jesus in belief and worship is clearly evident in the earliest Christian sources, shortly following his death, and was not simply the invention of the church centuries later.

Should be due out in late February or early March.

Let me say folks, that this is going to be an awesome debate with some big issues in Christian origins being contested. We cover material ranging from the historical Jesus to the Jesus of Nicea. There’s Jewish intermediary figures, Jesus’ self-understanding, the historicity of the resurrection, interpreting Philippians 2:5-11, heaps on church fathers, and more!

Be sure to pre-order and beat the rush.

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  • Sue

    Perhaps then you should also study this essay, the author of which was thoroughly familiar with all of the recent scholarly works on the origins of Christianity. Including those of Bart Ehrman, John Shelby Spong, Gerd Ludeman, and many others.

    He also criticized them all because none of them had any understanding of and thus any sympathy for the profundities of esoteric Spiritual religion.
    Such is of course also very much the case with all of the usual suspects in the Christian ‘theological” blogosphere

  • Jaco van Zyl

    I doubt whether your book will be anything else but fodder for Evangelical fundamentalists. Even if it draws the attention of wider scholarship, I hope for your sake you don’t end up with egg on your face.

    • CTimeline

      Well that is a particularly ungracious comment. Simon Gathercole’s “The Pre-existent Son” and Chris Tilling’s “Paul’s Divine Christology”, amongst the work of the others, are scholarly monographs. Dismissing such an enterprise as merely being material for evangelical scholarship I think betrays your biases and blindspots…

      • Jaco van Zyl

        We’ll see where the blindspots and biases are in this coming book. Dunn gave a very harsh criticism of Gathercole’s theologically motivated monograph. It will be interesting to see to what extent theological allegiance and obsession lie behind the “research” of this coming book. You can also be assured that Ehrman and Co. won’t keep silent if it is yet another inferior attempt…

      • Puck SR

        “Paul’s Divine Christology” might be a “scholarly monograph” inside of Christian circles, but it isn’t exactly a secular book. This is the failure of your attempt. People who are reading Ehrman don’t care about Christian books. If you found some secular scholars who could debate his points(and you can) then people would listen. If you go find a bunch of Christian fundamentalists who say “The Bible is the word of God, case closed”…then you are just shooting yourself in the foot. They might say it over a long chapter, but the authors you listed are going to start all arguments from this perspective because it is IMPOSSIBLE for them to think in any other context.

        Ehrman is writing a HISTORY book. Not a book about how one should understand their Christian faith. Get that through your head and then get back to the drawing board.

        You will probably sell a ton of books though. Since this will be a “Christian apologetic rebuttal” to a best-selling book on Jesus you will probably fill the shelves of good Christians everywhere. Just don’t expect it to matter in any real sense.(or for any of those people to have read both books)

        • CTimeline


          I see. You have completely misunderstood what is happening. The idea that Jesus was viewed as God in the earliest stratum of Christian thought is not a Christian or fundamentalist view. It is not just entertained by Christian communities, or its books merely filling the shelfs of the faithful. It is a serious scholarly view, in fact good evidence exists that it is now the dominant view among secular historians of early Christianity (e.g. see a recent article on this subject in Currents of Biblical Research!). You can keep suggesting and wanting to paint this as a battle between historians and apologists, secularists vs fundamentalists, but that is an illusion entirely of your making. Why you want to so distort what is going on is I presume you have little familiarity with the serious academic study of early Christianity, or you want the picture you have painted to match reality. Your comments are actually rather ridiculous and offensive. If one is looking for people who are using their emotions and prior beliefs to colour their perception I would start by consider whether you yourself have fallen under such manipulation.

          • Puck SR

            I apologize, but I didn’t realize that it was normal for secular researchers to write “rebuttals” to popular science pieces as books. I can’t seem to find any such books discussing “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. I can find several scholarly papers published criticizing it, but I can’t find a single book.

            Do you think it is odd that your response to reading his book was to publish an entirely new book which will be sold on Amazon?

            I have only a passing familiarity with early Christianity. It is not my profession, though I find the myth-building and genesis of a new religion to be fascinating. I have read heavily on the topic, but I didn’t pursue a divinity degree.

            I am surprised that the “monographs” of literature you point to are mostly people like Simon Gathercole, who seems to only write about popular topics in order to sell books.(Gospel of Judas and Thomas?)

          • CTimeline

            No. It is not particularly odd to write a book in response to another’s work. Also, I dont know why you think having a book selling on Amazon makes the work no longer scholarly? Perhaps this is bound up in your misapprehension over the financial trappings of academia??

            Simon Gathercole is a lecturer at the University of Cambridge (!), and is (both from someone who has taught me, some of whose PhD students I know, and whose books I have read) an extremely formidable scholar. The idea that he only writes on popular topics so he can sell books tells me 1) you don’t know his work, which is very well respected, and 2) you have no idea on just how slight the pay back for such books are. If he made more than £2,000 for any one of them I would be amazed. His current book on Thomas (based on the normal run of SNTSM monographs and Cambridge commission rate) would probably have made him a few hundred pounds. So no, I doubt he is in it for the money (!).

          • Puck SR

            I apologize. I just found it odd. I was under the misconception that you were some devout Christian. I apologize for conflating you with Timothy Paul Jones.

            Still, I find the idea of a book of response unique to religiously sensitive topics. Jared Diamond wrote a best-selling science book that ruffled some feathers, but no response book(plenty of other responses). Nassim Taleb wrote a best-selling economics book that ruffled some feathers, but no response book(though many takedowns in journals). Yet Richard Dawkins stimulates dozens of “books in response”. I find that fascinating, don’t you?

          • Puck SR

            Just started reading Ehrman’s book. Apparently he starts on the first page discussing how some of the earliest Christians believed Jesus was divine.

            Good luck tilting at windmills.

    • Michael Bird

      Jaco, you seem to have some emotional capital invested in Ehrman which is giving you a sense of anxiety to the point that you are sledging a book you haven’t read in order to cope with your insecurity that he might be proved wrong. You poor guy!

      • Jaco van Zyl

        Oh please, psychologising much? And why the obsessive fixation on Bart Ehrman by you poor threatened Evangelicals to the point of spending decades just to protect your dying sacred cow? So before you give yourself away a mere little Freudian phenomenon, leave psychology to real psychologists. You pathetic guy!

  • iCMAi

    No Larry Hurtado? Kind of disappointing.

  • Guest

    FYI; Some of Justin Martyr on Jesus being God (c.e. 160ish). It would seem they believed it, but struggled to prove it.

    Then he replied, “Let these things be so as you say—namely, that it was foretold Christ would suffer, and be called a stone; and after His first appearance, in which it had been announced He would suffer, would come in glory, and be Judge finally of all, and eternal King and Priest. Now show if this man be He of whom these prophecies were made.”

    And I said, “As you wish, Trypho, I shall come to these proofs which you seek in the fitting place; but now you will permit me first to recount the prophecies, which I wish to do in order to prove that Christ is called both God and Lord of hosts,

    Justin Martyr. (1885). Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 212). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.


    And Trypho said, “We have heard what you think of these matters. Resume the discourse where you left off, and bring it to an end. For some of it appears to me to be paradoxical, and wholly incapable of proof. For when you say that this Christ existed as God before the ages, then that He submitted to be born and become man, yet that He is not man of man, this [assertion] appears to me to be not merely paradoxical, but also foolish.”

    And I replied to this, “I know that the statement does appear to be paradoxical, especially to those of your race, who are ever unwilling to understand or to perform the [requirements] of God, but [ready to perform] those of your teachers, as God Himself declares. Now assuredly, Trypho,” I continued, “[the proof] that this man is the Christ of God does not fail, though I be unable to prove that He existed formerly as Son of the Maker of all things, being God, and was born a man by the Virgin. But since I have certainly proved that this man is the Christ of God, whoever He be, even if I do not prove that He pre-existed, and submitted to be born a man of like passions with us, having a body, according to the Father’s will; in this last matter alone is it just to say that I have erred, and not to deny that He is the Christ, though it should appear that He was born man of men, and [nothing more] is proved [than this], that He has become Christ by election. For there are some, my friends.” I said, “of our race, who admit that He is Christ, while holding Him to be man of men; with whom I do not agree, nor would I, even though most of those who have [now] the same opinions as myself should say so; since we were enjoined by Christ Himself to put no faith in human doctrines, but in those proclaimed by the blessed prophets and taught by Himself.”

    Justin Martyr. (1885). Dialogue of Justin with Trypho, a Jew. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 219). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

  • Just Sayin’

    I don’t have a Kindle; sorry.

    Added later: I see it is in paperback as well as Kindle. This wasn’t showing earlier when I first clicked on the link.

  • Just Sayin’

    Evangelicals need to write popular books that reach millions, just as Bart Ehrman does. That would be much, much better than these hurried Kindle “responses”. But too many evangelical scholars are like Craig Keener — too busy writing another thousand pages on Paul that only a few hundred people MAY ever get around to reading.

    Evangelicals need to get out of the comfy in-bred Zondervan/IVP/Eerdmans ghetto and into mainstream publishing houses.

  • JTwales

    Ah Jaco, attacking mainstream Christian teaching again, but this time siding with an opponent of any meaningful expression of the faith in Ehrman. Your JW roots and current socinian views causes you to have unusual bedfellows.

  • Jeff Bingham

    Very Exciting!

    Bart Ehrman’s books are shaking the faith foundations of long-standing Christian friends of mine. I’m so glad you’re will have such a fast response to his latest book!

  • Xavier

    Mr. Bird, when Jesus
    agrees with a fellow Jewish scribe in his affirmation of the Shema in Mk. 12:29, was he in line with the orthodox, non-Trinitarian view of God? Or did
    the Shema present a Trinitarian creed?

  • Hello

    In Was Jesus just your average Joe? , I argued it is pretty unlikely that Jesus was just an ordinary man on the grounds of the extreme dissimilarity between the conviction of His first disciples and the very high Christology one can find only one or two generations later.

    There needs to be something special about him.

    Ehrmann now thinks that extremely powerful and wonderful hallucinations do the job.
    Well I doubt it. Why did not the disciples of all other failed Messiah developed similar hallucinations and draw similar conclusions?
    Ehrmann has to postulate that this occurred by sheer chance to the early disciples but not to the other Messianic sects.

    I think that if you really want a naturalistic explanation, this should look like this:

    1) the body of Jesus disappeared in some way from a known tomb
    2) A group of female followers found the empty grave and were stunned
    3) as a consequence of this discovery the disciples got so excited that they began have all sorts of visionary experiences
    4) this in turn led them to view Christ as a divine being

    I am currently trying to develop a (frequentist) probabilistic way to explore historical issues which avoids the pitfalls of the Bayesianism of folks such as Richard Carrier and allows the existence of unknown probabilities.

    Cheers from Europe.

  • MesKalamDug

    There were people in Hippolytus’ time who called people who called Jesus divine “ditheists”. That is, they were monotheists who felt that elevating Jesus created a situation of two ods. They hadn’t even heard about the Holy Spirit.

    This after 200 CE