Posts Tagged ‘Deity of Christ’

Book Plunge: How Jesus Became God

April 28, 2014

What do I think of Bart Ehrman’s latest book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

There is an increasing pattern in Ehrman’s books. He is more and more hesitant to interact with that which disagrees with him and goes more on his own pronouncements or only the people who agree with him. I refer to this as an argument with just one-hand clapping. Naturally, if one is a scholar one can and should speak with one’s own authority and one should cite those who agree with you, but one should also have extended argument with those who disagree. No Ph.D. dissertation would be accepted without interacting with opposing views, yet Ehrman writes books where he does not deal with the best that disagrees with him.

Consider for instance that he asks the question about miracles and history on pages 147-8. Does he interact with Keener, who wrote the massive two-volume work “Miracles”? Not a bit. The reader who never knew about Keener will leave this work not knowing about Keener. He writes about the burial customs in Israel. Does he interact with someone like Craig Evans? No. Evans is never interacted with in the book. He writes about the idea of a spiritual body in 1 Cor. 15, but he never interacts with the work of Licona and Wright where both address this as an extended length. This is most revealing since he refers to both of these books for those who want to read a defense of the resurrection. His whole book is on Christology and yet, Hurtado and Hengel are barely mentioned. Bauckham is never once mentioned.

Ehrman also comes at this from a heavily fundamentalist standpoint. He has the view that if Jesus really thought that He was God, shouldn’t He have mentioned this?” Well, no. Not really. Had Jesus gone and done something explicit like that, it would have led to further confusion. What does He mean? Is He saying He is God the Father? After all, Jesus was often interacting with the common man and not the trained theologian, and even those would have a hard time with the concept, as we still do today.

The same happened with Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah. It is extremely rare that we see Jesus explicitly say that He is the Christ, and this is not before a public audience. He does actions however to show that this is how He sees Himself. These include actions such as the triumphant entry. Why would He go this way? Because had He come right out and said “I’m the Messiah” we would expect people would be ready to lead a revolt against Rome and not to be people who would be His disciples seeking to grow in holiness.

Ehrman also thinks something like the virgin birth should have been mentioned by other writers. Yet why should it? We consider it fascinating, but the ancients, especially Jews, not so much. For Jews, it would be close to paganism and it would in fact implicate YHWH in Mary being pregnant outside of marriage. That would also lead to charges of Jesus being illegitimate, not something you want to announce about your Messiah. David Instone-Brewer even includes the virgin birth in his book “The Jesus Scandals” as something the evangelists would prefer to avoid talking about. He also ignores that Mark is an inclusio account giving the testimony of Peter, who would not have been present for the virgin birth. As for John, well He has quite an exalted intro for Jesus already. It’s hard to think how a virgin birth could improve that.

This is a constant problem for Ehrman. He thinks everything needs to be mentioned explicitly, but why should it? In the synoptics, we are even told that Jesus did not speak plainly. He spoke in parables. He was giving a message that those who were true seekers would find it. Ehrman’s view relies on an approach of the Bible as a fax from Heaven that will spell out for us what we want to know. It is highly fundamentalist and shows Ehrman never got past his fundamentalist background that he grew up with.

For Christology, Ehrman never has prolonged interaction with the Shema. He does cite 1 Cor. 8:4-6, but you’d never see the connection with the Shema, the great statement of monotheism that shaped Jewish culture. The only extended argument he has is with Phil. 2:6-11. His main focal point to start off with is in fact Galatians 4:14. It’s an oddity that when Paul calls Christ “God” in Romans 9:5, Paul agrees, but thinks he doesn’t mean Jesus is ontologically God, despite later texts having the same implication in Romans 10. Thus, when Paul speaks most explicitly, Ehrman reinterprets it to suit his own viewpoint. When Jesus doesn’t speak explicitly, Ehrman asks why He didn’t do so.

As for church history, there is just as much absent. There is no extended argument with Irenaeus and Athenagoras for instance. Again, this is the constant flaw in Ehrman. He is extremely selective with what he cites. Now of course, one cannot cite everything, but one should cite the main figures.

It’s also tragic because of so much that Ehrman gets right. He is right that Jesus believed He was the Messiah. He is in fact right when He argues that Jesus said much that could get Him to be seen as the Wisdom of God. He is right that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher. It is as if Ehrman is right on the edge but then wants to step back by just saying “Well He doesn’t say anything that is explicit!”

This is the sad aspect of it. Ehrman does know how to do scholarship and yet the ignoring of the best against him leaves one wondering why is this the case? IF Ehrman’s case is as strong as he thinks it is, why does he hesitate to point out those who disagree with him? Perhaps he should in fact mention them more explicitly than he normally does? (Odd for someone isn’t it who wants to hear truths expressed explicitly so much.) The tragedy will go both ways as there are too many atheists who read Ehrman as the last word just as there are too many Christians who read their side as the last word. Interact with both.

I have earlier written a review of “How God Became Jesus.” After reading Ehrman’s book, I do stand by that review. I encourage those wanting to study this issue to read both books.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Putting Jesus In His Place

September 25, 2013

Have we read the deity of Christ into the Bible? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Written on a popular level, Ed Komoszewski and Rob Bowman’s “Putting Jesus In His Place” is an excellent look at the biblical testimony to the full deity of Jesus Christ. The writing is clear and accessible with several charts that will help the reader with seeing the comparisons that the writers frequently make.

Also, the writers regularly go with the best in New Testament scholarship. We’re not talking about just reading popular authors. (Although the people they reference should be popular in the church and it’s a sign of our weakness that they’re not.) We’re talking about scholars like Bauckham, Hurtado, Witherington, and Wright. That’s just a small sample.

The writers also do not go too technical which will be a benefit. At times, there is Greek terminology used, but I suspect those who have no grasp at all of the Greek language would still manage to find their way through this work.

At the start, the book explains as well the importance of honor in the ancient worldview, a point that I like to see repeatedly emphasized as so many people today think the biblical culture was just like theirs. This only leads to a further misunderstanding of what we find in the Bible.

The book has the advantage as well of going through the New Testament and not just going to the main texts usually used like John 1:1-18 or Hebrews 1 or John 20:28, etc. Of course, they do go to these texts, but they bring up several points where the Bible implicitly has in the background the full deity of Jesus and that these passages do not make sense unless you see that.

The book focused on comparing Jesus in five areas to make a cumulative case. The acronym used is HANDS. Jesus shares the honors of God, the attributes of God, the name of God, the deeds of God, and the seat of God. This is a powerful case combined together and goes beyond just finding texts where Jesus is explicitly called God.

However, while this case is powerful, I do have some concerns that I would like to see if the writers decide to write a second edition of the book in the future.

First, I would like to see more interaction with the other side. One of my rules for reading a book is to beware of the sound of one hand clapping. A case sounds powerful if you don’t interact with the other side.

Now this book does interact with the other side, but it should be more frequent. For instance, I don’t think it was until I was 100 pages into the book that I came across the first mention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For the writers addressing a popular audience, this is the group they will come across the most that is arguing against the deity of Christ. Their arguments need to be taken more seriously and need to be referred to more often.

Second, I would like to see more of an index. There is an index of Scriptural passages, but it would be nice to see something like an index of writers or even people like Jehovah’s Witnesses or people like Greg Stafford. (I know who Stafford is, but it would have been nice to also seen who he is explained in the text since many people might not check notes.)

Third, I do think some cases could have been stronger, but I suppose that is the same for every work. For instance, Revelation 5:13-14 was used repeatedly, which is good, but I never saw mentioned how it says that all creation worships Him who sits on the throne and the Lamb, which differentiated the Lamb from creation. I think Matthew 28:17 could be strengthened when you noticed that the people in the text grasped Jesus’s feet and worshiped him. Jehovah’s Witnesses often tell us that the Greek word proskuneo, means to bow down and do obesiance. That would be problematic here since if the feet of Jesus are already being grasped, then it’s quite likely that they were already bowed down.

I also think some examples could have been improved upon as well. For instance, we are told Jesus was omnipresent in that He saw Nathaniel while Philip was talking to him. Yet could not the Jehovah’s Witness say Elisha knew about what Gehazi was doing while Gehazi was out? Mind you, I do not think that is a good objection, but it is an objection and I can easily see a Jehovah’s Witness using it.

Of course, in any work, there are always ways to improve and that would require volumes and volumes. Still, the main improvement I would like to see would be more interaction with the other side. I think every chapter should deal with some counterarguments to the position or reasons to doubt it.

Also, a caveat, this book is written on a popular level for Christians. You will not see arguments generally for the historicity of the text or the textual reliability of the text. Numerous books have been written on those areas already and I do think it would be too much to ask that everyone who is writing a book like this also have to write a book defending historicity and textual reliability. Those who want to argue on other grounds against the deity of Christ must go elsewhere.

Still, despite the caveats and ways of improvement, I do recommend this book. It is the best book I know of on a popular level dealing with the subject, but I hope those who read it will also read the scholarly books that deal with the subject.

In Christ,
Nick Peters