How Did Jesus Become God? Video of the Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird Debate

How Did Jesus Become God? Video of the Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird Debate February 13, 2016

Deane Galbraith shared the above video of the recent debate between Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird about Christology in the New Testament.

I'm still planning to blog my way through the Christology of Mark's Gospel, but I haven't managed to do so yet. And so, in the meantime, here's a round-up of the blogging on that topic that has taken place since the last time I posted on this topic:

The Jesus Blog had several posts on the topic, including one on whether Markan Christology is “low, underdeveloped, or understated,” another on whether Christology is the best category to use in this discussion, and a question posed to James Crossley by a blog reader.

Mike Kok blogged about Mark's view of Jesus' identity, and the story of Jesus' power over the sea.

Matthew Montonini asked whether the divinity of Jesus in Mark is in the eye of the beholder rather than what the text explicitly says. And yet in another post today he argues that Mark depicts Jesus' pronouncement of forgiveness of sin to imply his divinity (ignoring the fact that the Gospel of Matthew, Mark's earliest interpreter, does not understand it that way).

And a reader of my blog began blogging his way through the Gospel of Mark and its Christology.

I hope the above will provide you with enough to tide you over until I get around to blogging my way through the Christology of the Gospel of Mark myself here on this blog!





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  • I was getting read to watch that video. But then I noticed that it is almost 3 hours long.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

    • Deane’s post that I linked to indicates the time stamp of various sections, should you want to skip to the bits you would consider more interesting.

  • Tony Prost

    If you want to see how Jesus became God, watch how Ronald Reagan is presently being apotheosized by certain Republican cultists.

  • John MacDonald

    I think Jesus was not a god or The God, but rather a human prophet (Mark 6:5), with human failings such as drinking too much alcohol (Matthew 11:19), and even disagreeing with God’s plan and his role in God’s plan (Mark 14:32-42).

  • arcseconds

    Thought I’d watch a biblical scholarship video in my Easter weekend!

    I thought Michael Bird was hilarious (particularly when he told the person asking the question about mythicism “it’s OK, even if Jesus existed, even if the early Christians had a high christology, you can still be an atheist. Just not a stupid atheist”, and gave much better arguments than I was expecting. I think I must have gotten him confused with Justin Bass somewhere along the line.

    One thing that’s bugged me in the past is that there’s quite a bit of equivocation that goes on with ‘Son of God’. It seems to me that the Tanakh’s references to kings being ‘the son of god’ is symbolic, or a somewhat hyperbolic way of referring to their favoured status among Israel or humanity in general, or even if we want to think of it as adoptionistic in some way, it’s not the same kind of adoption as practiced in ancient Rome: I don’t think anyone thinks David was going to inherit the entire power of Heaven. Whereas the ‘Son of God’ in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity goes beyond inheritance or regency to idenity. These are very different things.

    Of course, the traditional Christian interpretation tends to conflate these to ‘Second Person of the Trinity’, but I think even Ehrman kind of depends on this equivocation at least rhetorically, when he points out that there are plenty of people called ‘sons of God’. If that doesn’t mean anything like the Second Person of the Trinity, or even a being exalted to the point of a divine regent, then it’s not the big surprise that Ehrman seems to think it is. Perhaps the use of this language in itself mildly surprising to someone used to the traditional view of the Bible, but if it means something different it isn’t too shocking.

    Of course the fact that different things are meant here can explain a ‘son of David’ -> ‘Davidic messiah’ -> ‘son of God’ (in the sense of the Psalms) -> ‘son of God’ (inheritance/regency) -> ‘son of God’ (Second Person of the Trinity) movement, but Ehrman doesn’t make this clear.

    So I think he kind of leaves the door open to Bird’s interpretation of the opening of Romans, where he claims that the passage means someone who is already the Son of God in some important sense just recieves the power of the Son of God.

    As far as the debate goes, I think Bird was somewhat successful in problematizing the adoptionist reading of the opening of Romans, but his argument about Mark was pretty weak. The argument that we need to interpret every instance of Jesus being called God’s son in Mark as an adoption is absurd: when you first call someone your wife is during the marriage ceremony when you marry her, but if you introduce her as your wife after that you’re not marrying her again!

    Bird perhaps has something when he claims it’s strange that Mark doesn’t mention Jesus’s earlier life if he was a virtuous man selected by God for sonship, but it’s even stranger if he thinks Jesus was always the Son of God, particularly if he thinks he pre-existed in some way, and simply fails to do anything to indicate this. Has anyone considered maybe that Mark doesn’t actually have a clear view about Jesus’s status before his baptism?

    His argument about adoptionism entailing justification through works rather than grace strikes me as projecting later concerns onto an earlier time, but even if this is not the case it’s not clear to me that it does entail this: adoptionists don’t need to claim Jesus earned his adoption. God could have thought he was the best of a bad lot, or even adopted him on a completely arbitrary basis (or ‘through grace alone’ if you like that wording better). In any case, even if it is theologically unsound, why assume that Mark must have a theologically sound view?

    Which we can make into a wider point. Perhaps Bird is right and there’s some kind of logic at play which means adoptionism and other views that later become heretical minority views have some kind of problems or tension that trinitarianism (or at least pre-existence) doesn’t. This might explain why trinitarianism eventually won out. But surely it’s more probable that the earliest Gospel presents a view that has problems and tensions within it, rather than gets things right (but strangely isn’t very explicit about it) from the get-go, and the logically problematic views end up being later deviations. Bird seems to agree that at least explicit trinitarianism is a later development, so he’s already bought into this view to some extent.

    • I wonder what would happen if that quote from Mike Bird were made into a meme…

      I think the ending of your comment is right on target. The main reason Christology is a focus of so much debate and so many conflicting formulations, is because of lack of clarity, tensions, unresolved issues, and unanswered questions in the textual sources themselves.

      • arcseconds

        I wonder whether it’s worth expanding on my point about Mark: why think any of the early writers had a clear and consistent view of who Jesus is?

        Maybe they were simply confused. And maybe there’s a lesson in there for Christian theology…