At the center of the Christian faith stands a perplexing event--a human named Jesus of Nazareth becomes a living embodiment of God. Over the centuries many Christians have raised questions about this moment: How did such a transformation occur? How can a man be fully human and fully divine at the same time? How did Jesus become God? Two new books explore these questions anew.
In his new book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (HarperOne, April), maverick historian of early Christianity Bart Ehrman argues that the earliest followers of Jesus did not embrace a vision of Jesus as God, and he demonstrates through a careful reading of numerous Christian texts that Jesus did not claim this for himself. Only when some of Jesus’ followers had visions of Jesus resurrected from the dead following his crucifixion, contends Ehrman, did they start to think that this Galilean prophet had become God.
“If the early Christians did not believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they would not have thought that he was any different from any other unfortunate prophet who ended up on the wrong side of the law and was executed for his troubles," Ehrman writes.
Ehrman sets early Christian history and writings in their Hellenistic and Jewish contexts to illustrate the ways that ancient cultures understood divine and human realms intersecting. He then explores the development of views from the Second through Fourth centuries about Jesus’ becoming God, examining the afterlife of these doctrines.
Five biblical scholars and church historians—Michael F. Bird, Craig A. Evans, Simon J. Gathercole, Charles E. Hill, and Chris Tilling—are quickly responding to Ehrman's arguments in How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—a Response to Bart Ehrman (Zondervan, Mar.). The contributors do not dispute the messiness of the development of Christological views in the early church, but they call the accuracy of Ehrman’s conclusions into question and outline in detail what they view as his populist conspiracy theories and sloppy history.
“While Ehrman offers a creative and accessible account of the origins of Jesus’ divinity in Christian belief, at the end of the day, we think that his overall case is about as convincing as reports of the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, sitting in a Chik-Fil-A restaurant, wearing a Texan-style cowboy hat, while reading Donald Trump’s memoir—which is to say, not convincing at all,” writes Bird.
These books continue the never-ending conversation about the way (or whether) a human became God, illustrating once again how perplexing the idea of Jesus’ divinity is to Christians and non-Christians alike.